The void Tillman's injury creates isn't just on the mound (and other O's thoughts) - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

The void Tillman’s injury creates isn’t just on the mound (and other O’s thoughts)

Tillman_Chris_05182016_05
Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

From a baseball-performance standpoint, losing right-hander Chris Tillman to the 15-day disabled list due to shoulder discomfort is a big blow to the club’s on-field performance.

But his void – which will extend to at least Sept. 5 and potentially after that – will be felt beyond what happens on the mound.

Tillman, who has made 31 or more starts in each of the past three seasons, had his outing pushed back last week, finally pitched on Saturday and allowed six runs in two-plus innings. Now he’s been scratched from his start Thursday at Washington and Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Tillman is headed to the DL. He had an injection in his troublesome shoulder Tuesday and hopes he can return when eligible Sept. 5 (the move will be backdated to Sunday).

When Tillman is on the mound, the Orioles have a chance of winning. Period. He is 15-5 this season with a 3.76 ERA in 26 starts this year. The Orioles are 20-6 in games that he has started. They are 49-50 in games he hasn’t. The rest of the rotation has a 5.27 ERA in those outings – and that includes Kevin Gausman’s six shutout innings Tuesday.

But Tillman’s importance goes beyond the numbers.

Tillman is the quiet leader of this group. He’s the ace, the best pitcher, the one the Orioles count on after a loss. The one that often matches up against the opposition’s top starter. Most important, he’s the guy that takes the pressure off the rest of the rotation and sets the example for it.

There’s a mentality that he provides to this team that I’m not sure anyone else in this current rotation can replicate. Gausman and Dylan Bundy have the talent, but they are still learning how to pitch. And they are still learning how to shake off a bad inning or a bad start.

Tillman was the same way when he was younger, but he’s developed a short memory over time. He doesn’t get lost in his own head on the mound, and doesn’t let one bad situation affect the next.

Frankly, the Orioles haven’t had a guy like that for a long time, maybe since Mike Mussina, who left after the 2000 season. Tillman doesn’t have the same overall numbers, of course, as Mussina, an eventual Hall of Famer. But his teammates have about the same kind of faith that Tillman’s going to post every fifth day and give his best as Mussina’s did in the 1990s.

Not having that presence – especially as the pennant race heats up – could take its toll, even if he misses only two starts. It would be a great time for veterans like Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez — who will start for Tillman on Thursday in Washington — to step up. But they’ve done nothing this season to instill confidence that they can fill Tillman’s leadership, ace and stopper roles.

The resilient O’s

I heard a lot of grumblings about how the Orioles’ season was virtually over after losing five of six to start this homestand. Losing three of four to Houston was the nail in the coffin I was told on the BaltimoreBaseball.com Facebook page. Stick a fork in them.

Sigh.

It’s baseball, people. And these 2016 Orioles are as streaky as any club I’ve ever covered. They are good, and then they are bad. And then they’ve proven they’ll be good again.

Now they’ve won two straight against an exceptionally balanced Washington Nationals team and are 69-56 this season, still two games out of first place in the AL East and still holding onto the second Wild Card spot. They received consecutive quality starts from Bundy and Gausman versus the Nationals, a positive development that could be key with 37 games remaining and Tillman’s health in question.

Remember, it is still August. A lot can happen in 37 games.

That may mean the Orioles fall apart ultimately. But this isn’t the time. If we’ve learned anything about this team it’s that it keeps battling.

I said in April that the Orioles would be playing meaningful games in September; whether that propels them into the playoffs, I don’t know. But I figured they’d be in the hunt in September, and I’m sticking with that, even with the Tillman injury.

Beating up the Nats

I didn’t write it, but I told several friends that I believed the Orioles would win three out of four against the first-place Nationals in this home-and-home series. The Orioles have won the first two and now just need a split in Washington to make me look smart (and that’s tough to do).

My reasoning was twofold: The first, is my premise above. I just didn’t see these Orioles folding right now. I thought there would be another push ahead after the disappointment against Houston.

And, secondly, the Orioles just seem to beat the Nationals. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, it’s just the way it is. The Orioles are 35-23 against the Nationals since they moved to Washington. The Orioles haven’t lost a season series to them since 2007. If the Orioles win one game at Nationals Park this week, they’ll have captured five straight season series in this geographic rivalry.

I could make the argument that the Nats have been better each year in those last five. But the Orioles, for some reason, seem to get the upper hand most times in head-to-head play.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    August 24, 2016 at 7:35 am

    Good Morning Dan, thanks as always for the great A.M. read that I’ve become so dependent on for my O’s fix every day. We indeed will miss Tillman for however long it’s going to be. But it’s almost football season, and as they say in football, it’s “the next man up”. Hopefully Gaus or Dylan can become than “next man”. The other question that begs to be answered is, who’s going to step into the rotation now? Wright? Wilson? Dare I say it … Ubaldo? Well, my money is on Jimenez. Why not give him one more shot at that late season surge he’s provided in the past? Who’s it gonna be? Who’s that next man up?

    One last parting shot this AM. As an aside in this article, you stated in a kind of matter-of-fact-way, that Moose Mussina is an eventual HOF’er. Personally, I’m not sure that’s a given. Might I be seeing that 10 year old fan peeking through?

    • Dan Connolly

      August 24, 2016 at 10:17 am

      Boog: Really glad you are checking us out every day. Yes, you are right. It’s Ubaldo’s time to step up. He’ll be getting the start Thursday (I updated that in this piece). We’ll see what happens. As for the fan thing, I’m telling ya Boog, that little boy is gone. I call Mussina a future Hall of Famer because that’s what he is. Pitching his entire career in the brutal AL East during the Steroid Era is the prism voters will look through. It’ll just take a while. One more thing, Moose and I are about the same age. When I was 10, he was 11. 🙂

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        August 24, 2016 at 1:18 pm

        I know this isn’t the forum but I can’t let this go by. Dan I certainly agree that Moose should be in the HOF, however I’m not sure he will be. I understand that he carried a 3.5 something ERA during the Steroid era and that he has 270 wins, but as time moves forward I fear that 3.5 ERA is going to blend in ERAs from the past and he’ll be compared to the Big Trains, Palmers, Seavers and Kofaxs of the world. Even when you compare him to some of the other pitchers of his time such as Maddux, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Roger “Mr. Cheatpants” Clemens and Johan Santana I think he may end up at least one Cy Young award short of the Hall. He never won a Cy Young. That fact alone may keep him out. I certainly hope I’m proven wrong someday. It’s the voters that I don’t trust, not Mikes talent or career. He was great, but I think that fact may be lost outside of Charm City.

  2. jan417

    August 24, 2016 at 9:18 am

    Great article! You are one of the few writers who doesn’t deal in the “doom, gloom, and all negative” sports writing industry.

    Losing Tillman is hard. Losing O’Day is hard. But this is a team that has proven time after time that they ARE more than just a collection of baseball ability, but a tightly knit team with a never give up attitude.

    We all know that getting to the playoffs takes ability, talent, grit and YES, luck. Will the O’s have all of that? Who knows but hope so.

    I think someone WILL step up. I know it sounds crazy, but maybe this will be the time when Ubaldo ( like Boog Robinson Robinson said) sees he is needed and dials it in.Or maybe the veteran Gallardo takes over the leadership role with his experience. Or one of the others. The leadership might come from the position players, Jones, Hardy, etc. It’s never just about one guy.

    Sometimes the young guys might seize this opportunity to spread their wings and “do it for Tilly” It’s all part of a maturation process and maybe the training wheels coming off isn’t so bad.

    Who knows? I know this. I LOVE this team and who they are for all their streaks and scuffles. They have outpaced what everyone predicted for them already, and I think they will continue to. Like Buck says, ” I like our guys.”

    • Dan Connolly

      August 24, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Jan: Like the sunny outlook. Like the thoughts. Welcome aboard and keep commenting.

  3. marcshank

    August 24, 2016 at 9:43 am

    I agree that this is far from over, that’s an attitude for losers. I can never be encouraging about Jiminez or Miley, but here’s what we have: two straight wins for Gausman, a good outing last from Gallardo and some long relievers like Worley and Givens who can step up if the situation calls for it and this situation certainly calls for it. But we have to keep hitting and it’s going to take 5 or 6 runs a game at least. Yea, it’s crunch time, but if we can manage to stay close to first until Sep. 2, we have a rested Tillman and the ones above who maybe came through. Thing is, if they can come through this, I think they’ll be that much stronger for it and more than ready for the playoffs. Go O’s, make fools of ESPN, the biggest pleasure of all.

    • Dan Connolly

      August 24, 2016 at 10:25 am

      Marc: Good stuff. Getting into the playoffs wasn’t going to be easy. Without Tillman for the rest of the month (and maybe further into September) will make it harder. And, you are right, that means the Orioles’ offense has to be more consistent and deliver 5 runs a game. May not happen. But it may.

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