If you’ve paid attention to Chris Tillman’s pitching career, you know he’s one of those guys who often struggles a bit with his location early in a start. But if he can get things turned around quickly, watch out. He can turn a shaky outing into a solid one in an eye-blink.
Thursday was the perfect example.
Tillman’s first inning was a disaster. He threw 38 pitches, allowed a single, a double, two walks and hit a batter. Troy Tulowitzki just missed hitting a three-run homer to left.
Tillman gave up two runs and put his club in an early hole. But then, with a sharp curveball and improving slider, Tillman figured it out. He didn’t allow a run after the first. Somehow, he threw six full innings and gave the Orioles a quality start in a 3-2 Orioles win.
“I’ve struggled in the first inning throughout my career, I think,” Tillman said. “Being able to bounce back like that is a big part of it, a big part of my success in the past.”
Consider that heading into Thursday’s start, Tillman had a 5.16 ERA in the first inning in his career; the only inning in which he has a higher mark is the sixth, when he is normally toward the end of his outings.
So why does he struggle in the first?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but he has walked more batters in the first inning than any other frame in his career. So it obviously takes some time to get his command where he wants it to be.
And that is something that he and the Orioles would like to fix. But the flip side is that Tillman has learned how to put rough innings behind him. It’s something he wasn’t particularly good at early in his career, but he has really improved in that area as he has matured as a pitcher.
And that’s not lost on his manager, Buck Showalter.
“He pitched 6 innings. You can say, ‘Boy, there might have been a better outing there,’ but that’s why you like Chris,” Showalter said. “We’ve had a lot of guys that have had trouble so far — I hope we can solve that –with the first inning and pitch counts and everything. But they minimize the damage. (Tillman’s recovery) shouldn’t be forgotten. That game could have gotten away from us early.”
Bellino’s bad night
Home plate umpire Dan Bellino had a rough night Thursday. OK, this is my own web site. I can be a little more direct. Bellino was terrible Thursday.
I’m not one to complain about umpires. They are part of the game and good teams and good players understand their tendencies and adjust. In their pre-game meetings, the Orioles actually go over who is behind the plate and what can be expected.
But it was impossible to expect what Bellino was delivering Thursday. His strike zone was ridiculously inconsistent. For both teams, no question, but he made two calls that adversely affected the Orioles in fairly key ways.
In the first inning, with the bases loaded and no outs, Mark Trumbo was called out by Bellino on a full-count pitch that appeared to be far below a normal strike zone.
OK, those things happen.
In the fifth, with runners on first and second, Bellino ruled Matt Wieters did not check his swing on a two-strike pitch. Looked close on the replay; Wieters probably did not break the plane. Again, things happen.
But Bellino didn’t ask for help on that call – and that always infuriates Showalter and company.
Wieters, who doesn’t complain much, walked away and said something as he left the batter’s box. In a nanosecond, Bellino tossed him – the second big league ejection of Wieters’ career (the first was on May 29, 2012 for arguing balls and strikes. It also came against the Blue Jays).
I don’t know exactly what was said, but I was told after the game that it was something that often will get you tossed. Put it this way: Wieters wasn’t congratulating Bellino on a job well done.
Still, that was an exceptionally quick hook, and it was probably prompted because Bellino had to realize that he wasn’t having a good game. And his frustration, as well as the Orioles’, was boiling over.
Bellino isn’t a newbie. He is 37 and has been a full-time MLB ump since 2011. He’s considered a solid umpire. He wasn’t on Thursday, and he probably let his ego get in the way in the fifth.
Beating the Jays
It’s early. Way early. But the Orioles winning a series against the Blue Jays has to hold a little more significance than an April series victory against another squad. The Orioles were 8-11 versus the defending division champion Jays last year. They won just two of six series.
The Orioles are now 6-2 in the division and have won the series against all three division clubs it has faced: Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays.
Yes, it’s early. But beating the teams in your division is a big step toward making the playoffs in October, especially in a division as up-for-grabs as the AL East.