Why one of the biggest developments for the Orioles this month won't occur in Baltimore - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Why one of the biggest developments for the Orioles this month won’t occur in Baltimore

It’s hard to take your focus away from Camden Yards this week, with the Orioles opening up the season and going undefeated so far against division rivals, the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees.

An argument can be made, though, that one of the most important developments for the Orioles this month isn’t happening in Maryland or in Norfolk, Va., or in any major league stadium.

On Saturday, Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman threw a live batting practice session in Sarasota, Fla., as he rehabs a right shoulder that has been bothering him, off and on, since September.

On Tuesday, he is scheduled to throw two innings or 30 pitches in an extended spring outing. He’ll probably do another of those and then end up at Double-A Bowie, where his rehab assignment will begin.

The hope is he’s back pitching with the Orioles by early to mid-May. Tillman’s on board with the schedule; he helped set it.

Rehab schedules usually aren’t worthy of their own headlines. But this one is a little different.

I was talking to a talent evaluator from another team recently, and he believes Tillman’s health is the absolute biggest key for the Orioles in 2017.

From his perspective, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are primed to take the next step. But they are young and both are going to have ups and downs and, at times, be inefficient with their pitches; that’s the nature of the inexperienced pitching beast.

The evaluator didn’t spend too much time discussing veterans Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley, because he fully expects both to be wildly erratic throughout the year. Some good, some bad. Some wins due to a slugging offense and some losses due to rough performances.


The way the scout explains it, the Orioles rotation should do enough to keep the team competitive, because all it has to do most nights is get to a tremendous bullpen with the score close.

But that’s where Tillman’s worth comes in. The 28-year-old is usually good for 30 starts, double-digit wins and an ERA under 3.80 (he’s done that trifecta in three of his past four seasons). What you can really count on from Tillman, though, is gutting out a start into the later innings.

Consider that from April 21 to Aug. 11 last year – when he was fully healthy and into the regular season groove – he made 22 starts and completed at least six innings 16 times. He pitched at least seven innings 10 times.

The thought is this: The Orioles need that Tillman back for 2017. Because they need at least one guy who can take pressure off the bullpen consistently. And even if the club’s fifth starter — Jayson Aquino, Gabriel Ynoa, Chris Lee or whomever – can pitch well, that guy still can’t be counted on to eat innings.

And we’ve seen this equation before. The more innings the vaunted bullpen has to throw, the less effective it will become.

So, while you’re watching the big leaguers play this April, keep an eye on the minors every fifth day, too. Because what happens this next month with Tillman may be nearly as important for the season-long success of the Orioles as what’s happening on the big league diamond.



  1. OsFanStuckInNY

    April 9, 2017 at 7:58 am

    Based on past few years, odds for a win are less than 50-50 when the current #3 and #4 start a game, and we don’t even know who they are going to lay on the altar as the temporary #5 — hopefully not someone who’s been dishing out hits and runs in the minors like candy on Halloween.

    What is the MLB record for consecutive scoreless innings by a bullpen (start of season and season)? 16-2/3 in only four games: amazing — and scary; especially with 3 of those 4 pitched by #1 and #2!

  2. woody

    April 9, 2017 at 9:25 am

    I think the other key thing with having a healthy Tillman is that it gives our bullpen a break, more often than not. He’s the one pitcher we have that gets better as the game goes on (check his career numbers 1st, 2nd, 3rd time through the order) which means that he’s often capable of going deep into a game. Sadly you have to expect Ubaldo to put pressure on the bullpen more often than not, and the other guys whilst better still have some bad games. The key thing about a great bullpen is not overworking it, and Tilly helps us win games he’s not throwing in by giving a few guys the night off.

  3. weams

    April 9, 2017 at 9:31 am

    Nice assessment.

  4. steveboothe12

    April 9, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Put me in the skeptical camp on Tillman. I think he ends up with surgery.

    I attended 10 Os spring training games & like what I saw in Ynoa. I envision him being in the rotation after Miley continues to struggle.

    I think the Os keep Jimenez in rotation accepting his inconsistency.

    • Eldersburg Enigma

      April 9, 2017 at 11:01 am

      Agree on Ynoa. I think he emerges from the pack. I see him as the current Rodrigo Lopez/ Miguel Gonzalez, in that he is solid for about two seasons before the league figures him out.

  5. Ben1

    April 9, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    problem is; DD cant seem to sign quality pitching

  6. John in Cincy

    April 11, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    “I was talking to a talent evaluator from another team recently, and he believes Tillman’s health is the absolute biggest key for the Orioles in 2017.”
    No argument here.

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