Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman wouldn’t say Wednesday’s no-walk, shutout performance against the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals featured his best stuff of the year so far.
“I wouldn’t say that, no,” Tillman said. “Fastball command was as good as it has been, but I think … it was good. I can’t say yes or no (that it was the best), but it was good.”
Oriole manager Buck Showalter wouldn’t bite on that storyline, either, refusing to anoint Tillman’s 7 1/3 superb innings as the big right-hander’s most dominating outing of 2016.
“This year? He’s had a couple good ones,” Showalter said. “This was one of them, without a doubt, but I’m not going to throw that moniker on it.”
So I guess this is where we as the media have to come in.
Tillman was tremendous Wednesday against a Royals club that admittedly is depleted by injury and enduring a seven-game losing streak, their worst since 2013.
By spotting his fastball and mixing in his off-speed pitches, Tillman allowed eight hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out nine, which ties a career high (seven previous times). He’s now 8-1 – no AL pitcher besides Chicago’s Chris Sale has more wins – has won seven straight decisions and his season ERA dropped to 3.01.
That’s a huge dip from last year’s campaign, when he was 11-11 with a 4.99 ERA in 31 starts. So what’s the difference?
“You can make a heck of a living going 11-11 in the big leagues. But Chris wants to be better than that because he knows he’s capable of it and wants to bring what the club needs,” Showalter said. “I also think it’s just part of the process. You get a lot of guys his age (28) just kind of understanding what they have to do to be successful. And that’s not only during the season, but during the offseason. It’s a certain maturity factor. It’s tunnel vision toward that day you pitch. Everything you do is leading into that. That’s where he is now. He relishes the day he gets to do his thing.”
Tillman did his thing rather well Wednesday, and then he shrugged his shoulders afterward, saying he just felt his fastball command was on, and it allowed him to keep the Royals off the board until his teammates could get to Edinson Volquez.
Tillman’s personality doesn’t change whether he’s pitching well or not – he doesn’t get too high or too low. So it’s interesting to watch him downplay starts like Wednesday’s.
He can say what he wants – but that was a pretty impressive outing.
Life after the Manny brawl
There was some question as to whether the bad blood that surfaced Tuesday night, when Orioles shortstop Manny Machado and Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura brawled, would carry over Wednesday. It didn’t.
The two sides focused on the game at hand. There were no incidents, nothing close, in fact. And now the sides won’t face each other again unless they meet in the playoffs.
“I think it was water under the bridge as soon as we left here (Tuesday) night,” Orioles reliever Brad Brach said. “Guys came here ready to play, and obviously it didn’t affect Chris (Tillman) and didn’t affect the offense. We scored the runs that we needed to and it was a great win to finish up the homestand.”
Brach keeps rolling
Brach didn’t need an injury to his buddy, Darren O’Day, to show how well he has been pitching this season.
But it has thrust him into the spotlight a little more, and the right-hander continues to shine.
On Wednesday night, he entered in the eighth in relief of Tillman and retired five of the seven batters he faced, picking up his second save of the year.
His season ERA is now down to 0.84 and he has allowed only 20 hits and nine walks while striking out 37 in 32 1/3 innings. He called it the best stretch of his career.
“And I’m hoping that it can continue,” Brach said.
When does Davis return?
First baseman Chris Davis didn’t play Wednesday, the first time that has happened this year. Showalter said he was banged-up some – no specific injury was mentioned, but Davis has been wrapping his thumb post-game — and wanted to give him a day off. But when asked Wednesday night if Davis would play Thursday in Toronto, the manager was non-committal.
“I don’t know. If he feels exactly like he did today I probably wouldn’t (play him). I’m expecting him to be ready to go (Thursday) if he shows the improvement he’s capable of,” Showalter said. “I hadn’t really given it a lot of thought. … At this point, I haven’t got any reason to think he shouldn’t be close to available to us tomorrow or the next day.”