BALTIMORE -- Zach Britton warmed up in the 11th inning and again in the 12th. But the Orioles' closer, who had just been activated from the 60-day disabled list, could only watch as the Boston Red Sox scored two runs in the 12th against Mychal Givens during a 2-0 loss June 11.
Manager Buck Showalter had said he preferred Britton -- who successfully rehabbed his ruptured right Achilles tendon in just less than six months -- avoid pitching in high-leverage situations, at least right away.
"I really was trying to stay away from him unless we could get the right situation," Showalter said. "But, we ran out of pitchers. … He was a hitter or so away from coming in. In some ways that was good for him to get the juices flowing. I was hoping for a better situation, but the game doesn't always cooperate."
Before the game, Showalter said he didn't want Britton to move into his ninth-inning role so soon after his return.
"In a perfect world, I would rather not do it right out of the chute," Showalter said. "I would rather work his way into it with an outing or two."
In 2017, when Britton missed two months with a forearm injury, Showalter eased him back. In his first game, he pitched in the seventh inning, and it wasn't until his eighth game back -- 18 days after his first one -- that he pitched in a save situation.
Britton underwent surgery to repair a ruptured right Achilles tendon Dec. 21, 2017, and he was expected to miss six months.
"The thought that he's a pitcher for us on June 11, that's remarkable," Showalter said. "He's checked every box to get ready."
Britton pitched in five rehab games -- one for Class-A Frederick, another for Double-A Bowie and three for Triple-A Norfolk.
"It's been a long road, since before Christmas," Britton said. "I've been looking forward to this day. So, excited to kind of get that first one under my belt and then get on a good routine and just go from there."
Britton returns to a strange situation. There are seven weeks until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and if he pitches well, he could be an attractive trade chip for the Orioles -- and set himself up for a big contract as a free agent in the offseason.
"I guess so, but I'm not going to think of it like that," Britton said. "I'm just excited to be back pitching. When I injured myself in December, I was just looking forward to walking again and running again, and then to be able to pitch back in the big leagues. There were a lot of hurdles that I overcame."
Both Britton and Showalter credited athletic trainer Brian Ebel, in his first season as the lead trainer, for traveling to California to work with Britton.
"I think he's more excited about me being able to pitch today, or at least being able to pitch," Britton said. "He should be. It's not an easy injury to rehab."
With the Orioles so far out of contention, there haven't been many opportunities for save situations, and it could be a struggle for Britton to get regular work.
"You've got to be a pretty good self-motivator when you're going through rehab by yourself," Britton said. "I was here throughout this whole season pretty much with the team. Every day I said, 'I've got to do what I've got to do to get back.' That's the same mindset. When I get on the mound, my job is to go out there and help my team win regardless of where we are in the standings every day.
"… I want to pitch well enough and help the team, regardless of our standing or trade discussions."
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