Chris Tillman throws a gem; provides hope he's headed in right direction - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Dan Connolly

Chris Tillman throws a gem; provides hope he’s headed in right direction

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

This is what every Orioles fan had hoped for, what everyone had optimistically envisioned when Chris Tillman, former No. 1 starter of the Orioles, re-signed in February on a one-year, $3 million, make-good contract after a disastrous and injury-marred 2017.

That suddenly Tillman would transport back to, say, the middle of 2016 and command the baseball, attack the hitters, mix eye levels and walk away with a win.

No one wants Tillman to fail. He’s too good of a guy, too hard of a worker, too important a piece of this organization to want to discard him. But he hadn’t shown he could consistently get big league hitters out in some time. And that’s the bottom line in the majors.

Well, it happened Friday night in a 6-0 Orioles victory against the Detroit Tigers, the team that most likely would have signed Tillman this spring had he not returned to Camden Yards.

Tillman on Friday was the Tillman you want to remember — without the low-to-mid-90s fastball, anyway. He allowed only one hit, walked two, plunked a batter and fanned five in seven shutout innings.

He wasn’t really dominant; he was really confident.

Confident in his mechanics, confident in his game plan with catcher Caleb Joseph, confident in his offspeed pitches.

“My secondary stuff was better,” Tillman said. “We were able to mix pitches just enough to keep them off-balance.”

The Tigers were completely off-balance, generating a lot of weak grounders or harmless fly balls.

With one out in the first, Tillman hit a batter on the foot and then walked the next one. There may have been a “here we go again” vibe lingering around Camden Yards and on the television screens in the Mid-Atlantic region. But not lingering around Tillman.

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He struck out Nick Castellanos and then induced a fly ball to end the inning. It triggered a run of 10 straight batters retired.

“He didn’t let things snowball,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He said, ‘OK, that happened.’ I thought the first inning, getting out of that inning …  if he gets one more inning under his belt, he’s going to have a really good outing.”

Tillman surrendered his lone hit in the fifth, a one-out double by Jose Iglesias, who moved to third on a groundout.

The Orioles and Tillman were clinging to a 1-0 lead, the tying runner was 90 feet away and the hot-hitting Leonys Martin was up. Again, Tillman attacked with confidence.

He threw a first-pitch strike, and Martin then worked the count to 2-2, all off-speed pitches.

The next offering was vintage Tillman. He climbed the ladder with a high fastball. It was 88 mph, not 93 or 94 like Tillman routinely threw a couple years ago.

But it changed Martin’s eye level. He committed, and then tried to pull back. The third base umpire said Martin didn’t check his swing. Strike three; 1-0 lead preserved.

“Yup, high fastball to expand the zone. A guy that has been swinging the bat real well. He’s been hot for them,” Showalter said. “I thought that was key to his outing, kept his pitch count down.”

Two more innings and some offense provided — including two Pedro Alvarez homers — and Tillman was headed for his first win since his initial outing of 2017. He went 22 starts without a victory before Friday. He also helped snap the Orioles’ five-game losing streak.

The even-keeled Tillman acknowledged that walking off the field with a lead and a chance to win was uplifting.

“It feels good, especially the way we’ve been playing. We know we are capable of better and it feels good to come out of a game with the lead for once,” he said. “I feel like every time I’m coming out we are down three or four runs, It’s not fun, it’s not fun to be a part of.  You’ve got to pitch better and fortunately tonight I was able to.”

Who knows if this is a blip — one pleasant moment — for Tillman or if it is the start of something strong and sustainable?

He won’t let himself bite on that conjecture.

“No. Definitely not. I think every start is a challenge, The next team (couldn’t) care less what the heck I did tonight,” he said. “ You’ve got to keep working, keep grinding and, like I said, it’s just a piece of the puzzle. You’ve got to keep on going.”

It’s one start. Tillman realizes that. We all should.

But that one start also provided a glimmer that the Tillman that struggled through 2017 with a shoulder injury and mechanics that never felt comfortable, the one that stumbled out of the gate in 2018, could be in retreat as this season progresses.

That’s the hope. That Tillman the fighter has moved himself off the ropes and is now landing his own punches again.

“You want Chris (to experience) something positive, because we all know what it could mean to us if Chris could get going like Chris is capable,” Showalter said. “ It could make what I think is going to be a good rotation into a really good one.”

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. ATCguy

    April 28, 2018 at 1:02 am

    Not just on a few “television screens in the Mid-Atlantic region”, Dan… but also on at least one of em via the MLB Extra Innings package from the satellite dish on my RV in south Texas. I’ll admit I was all ready to begin scanning the program guide to see what other games were on. But it was nice to see him work his way out of it, and then continue having success in the following innings. It was also nice to see the offense give him some support too… although for awhile, that too was in doubt (minus Manny’s dinger). Hopefully he’ll be able to string a few more good starts together… well, hey, I can hope, right?

    • Dan Connolly

      April 28, 2018 at 2:27 am

      You are right ATC —not just the mid-Atlantic region. All over these days of tech.

  2. Bancells Moustache

    April 28, 2018 at 5:40 am

    Not sure what to make of this. I suppose I am happy for Tillman, but then I remember a certain Latino right-hander signed to a lucrative contract a few years ago. Who often did we see him that shall go unnamed be a disaster for several weeks in a row, then bust out some random 2 hit gem before reverting back to suckiness? Chris, I ain’t buying it bud

  3. general81

    April 28, 2018 at 8:02 am

    I was at the game last Saturday, and saw a really good performance from Tillman then, too. That’s two solid starts in a row … and I do hope he has turned the corner. I know it’s a long season, and we are in a deep hole, but assuming he is close to being back, and Cobb can right his own ship, we may be able to claw our way back to semi-respectability.

    That being said, I hope Duquette is making calls to his peers asking, “What will you give me for Manny … ?”

  4. bigdaddydk

    April 28, 2018 at 8:25 am

    If, and this is a big if, Tillman comes around and some of the guys Buck is showing a lot of patience with become producers, Buck is going to look like an absolute genius. I have a great deal of faith in his baseball knowledge, but I have had pause to question things more often as the talent pool on the team has appeared to be thinner and thinner. I know as a fan I get impatient, as I think many of us do. We don’t see the maneuvering going on behind the scenes. I really hope Buck has a plan that’s going to turn this season around. I’ll remain somewhat optimistic, but very cautiously so.

    For the record, I’m watching them from Chile. Definitely not in the Mid-Atlantic.

  5. Dblack2508

    April 28, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Tillman pitched an impressive game. now the Orioles goal should be win the series. As for Tillman, we shall see.

  6. Creatively_19

    April 28, 2018 at 9:41 am

    There were definitely glimpses of the old Tillman in his last start, the curveball looked good last time and he was sharp last night. Hopefully Tilly leads the rotation into some good stuff going forward. I’m gonna try to be a little more optimistic anyway…

  7. jkneps63

    April 28, 2018 at 10:18 am

    Yeah! A glimmer of hope, a solid game all around. My new favorite Oriole, Jace Peterson, looks like he wants to stay in the starting line up too – if only he could play 3B!

  8. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    April 28, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    Tillmans’s command was excellent. There was a bigger speed differential between his fb and other pitches. This kept the Tigers off balance. Hopefully he can continue improving his consistency on upcoming starts.

  9. jkneps63

    April 28, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    Serious question for DC:

    C. Joseph currently has a 4.25 catcher ERA, C. Sisco is at 5.55 so far for 2018.

    I coached hitting and OF for some high school teams and don’t know much about coaching pitchers or catchers – how can C. Sisco improve his catcher ERA/handle pitchers better/induce better performances from the pitchers when he catches?

    It seems he is very teachable as he has thrown out 50% of base stealers and that was previously one of his weaknesses. Is improving CERA a matter of coaching/teaching or maybe more a matter of building familiarity and trust with the pitching staff? Or all of the above?

    • Creatively_19

      April 28, 2018 at 7:52 pm

      Sometimes I think CERA is a good stat and sometimes not. It’s not either of the catchers fault that Tillman couldn’t locate his pitches his first few starts, or that Cobb is still in Spring training mode. Cashner and Cobb are still pretty new to Caleb as well. I just think of you try to focus on things like CERA this early in the season, you’ll be the victim of small sample size.

      For instance, Chance has caught 2 games from Cashner and has a CERA of 0.69. Caleb has caught 3 games of Cashner’s and has a CERA of 5.82.

      Cisco has also caught all three of Cobb’s starts and has a CERA of 13.11, while Caleb has escaped that mess.

      Tillman’s CERA is 7.15 with Cisco and 6.92 with Joseph.

      What does it all mean? Probably not much.

      • jkneps63

        April 28, 2018 at 8:30 pm

        All good points, would like to see Sisco in the starting line up more often (guess he has to hit better against lefties). If CERA doesn’t mean too much, DFA Joseph and bring up Susac. Joseph can’t hit, really never could and it his hitting seems to be have really plummeted in 2018.

  10. Mau

    April 28, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    Happy for Tillman. Still, what has happened to the velocity on his fastball? From low to mid 90’s to mid to high 80’s. Is this the effect of the injury from last year? If he can keep mixing it up like last night he’ll be fine but he’s not like his old self. Neither am I but I’m not pitching in the AL East.

    Cashman’s turn to throw a gem?

    • Mau

      April 28, 2018 at 8:53 pm

      Oops meant Cashner. No gem for him tonight. A typical O SP outing. An Ubaldo Miley special.

  11. Eldersburg Enigma

    April 28, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    Tillman will get another 4-5 dumpster fire starts because of this one stellar performance lending additional hope.

    • Creatively_19

      April 29, 2018 at 1:34 am

      That was Ubaldo’s MO for the last couple of seasons

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