The Orioles got crushed for the second consecutive night against the Houston Astros, and normally that would be a major concern – any fall-apart losses at this point of the year are disconcerting.
But there was really only one important storyline after the Orioles’ 12-2 loss Saturday night.
Is Chris Tillman — far and away the club’s most consistent starter — healthy?
He says he is.
“Physically, I felt fine. That’s the big positive coming out of this — probably the only positive you can find,” Tillman said. “I felt good. Just couldn’t command the baseball.”
His manager, Orioles manager Buck Showalter, says he believes Tillman.
“Chris has come a long way in his baseball maturity. He’s not going to do anything to hurt the club. I trust his honesty with us,” Showalter said. “I’d like to think I know him well enough with the look in his eye. He doesn’t B.S. us anymore. He knows how important these games are. I expect him to have a good outing next time out and feel good tomorrow.”
You can understand why there was – and frankly still will be – concern about whether Tillman is OK. He was supposed to pitch Thursday, but was pushed back after dealing with shoulder soreness after his last outing Aug. 11.
So he pitched Saturday, and he was pulled in the third inning after hitting a batter and walking three straight, matching his shortest outing this year. The six runs he allowed also matched a season high and it was just the fourth time in his career that he didn’t record a strikeout.
His ERA jumped from 3.46 to 3.76 in one outing. Also alarming, his four-seam fastball was clocked at 86-89 mph in the first inning – well below his low-to-mid 90s range. It did kick up a little by the third, with his last pitch of the outing clocked at 93.3 mph by mlb.com. It was the fastest pitch he threw – and it gives credence to his theory that he just wasn’t mentally trusting his shoulder initially.
“I think I was a little timid early on. There was some apprehension there, but the more I got into it, I feel like it started to come around,” Tillman said. “I’m pretty confident in it, and I have a pretty good feeling that it wasn’t going to be a thing anymore. I felt really good at the end. I felt like it was coming out a little better.”
Showalter speculated that the layoff was Tillman’s biggest obstacle.
“I think he was rusty more than anything. I was talking to him some afterward. You saw his velocity kick up after the first inning,” Showalter said. “Really toward the end of the first inning. Just command. I think you take eight or nine days off in between, I think that was it more than anything.”
So that’s what they are saying. And you have to hope that that’s what went on Saturday. Because this rotation cannot afford to lose Tillman for any period of time.
One bad start is easily dismissed. A persistent shoulder injury would be a gut punch.