Every now and then, I throw a question to you in the Tap Room that seemingly has no right answer.
Today is one of those days.
I wanna know: What do you think the Orioles should do with right-hander Chris Tillman?
Tillman has been the club’s most reliable starter through the past five seasons; he’s been the Orioles’ de facto ace. From 2012 through 2016, Tillman made 153 starts for the Orioles, compiled a 65-33 record and posted a solid 4.03 ERA.
That five-season ERA would have been much lower if it hadn’t been for a 2015 in which he had a 4.99. His worst ERA in his other four seasons was 3.77.
That’s important to remember because this season Tillman’s ERA in nine starts is 8.39 – far and away his worst extended stretch. He has allowed 64 hits and 22 walks in 39 2/3 innings since beginning his Orioles’ season on May 7 – his year was truncated by shoulder trouble that first surfaced last August and robbed Tillman of basically his entire spring training in 2017.
Notice this question today isn’t, “What’s wrong with Chris Tillman?”
No one has that answer. Tillman believes it is a mechanical issue. He said he is healthy and he feels his shoulder is strong. Orioles manager Buck Showalter seems at a loss – saying that Tillman’s pitches haven’t been crisp and his command has been off.
No one can figure out what to do, how to turn this around.
If Tillman doesn’t improve soon, the Orioles really will be in a pickle. Showalter has said as much; he can’t keep a pitcher with an 8 ERA in the rotation, but the alternatives aren’t pleasant.
For now, Tillman will start Sunday at the Tampa Bay Rays, who are suddenly one of the more power-laden teams in baseball.
In my opinion, the Orioles don’t have any choice but to keep starting Tillman and hoping for the best. They have no one in the wings that is clearly better. They have no one that has a better track record in the entire organization.
And they have nowhere to put the 29-year-old Tillman. He’s made 188 big league appearances in his career, all as a starter. Aside from the lack of experience, Tillman doesn’t profile as a reliever.
He’s had trouble in the first inning during a chunk of his career. And, most important, he’s recovering from a shoulder injury, so the worst thing to do is try to have him pitch multiple times a week. Asking for even more potential trouble there.
Ubaldo Jimenez has been sent to the bullpen in three different seasons when he has struggled in the rotation and, for the most part, it helped him. But, Showalter points out, the rubber-armed Jimenez “is a little bit more equipped for it physically.”
I’m sure some of you will have the knee-jerk reaction – especially in social media avenues – to say cut or trade Tillman. Well, the Orioles have no one undoubtedly better to replace him in the majors or in a thin minor league system. No one you can confidently say will be better in the second half of this season than Tillman. We’ve already covered that.
Secondly, he has no real trade value pitching like this, unless the full purpose is to dump his salary and get little or nothing in return. Which makes little sense to me.
Yes, there’s always the disabled list route. But Tillman continues to say he’s healthy. So, it could happen, but it would raise eyebrows. Contractually, you can’t just send him to the minors.
My thought is you have to keep starting him until the All-Star Break and hope that more rest and hard work – the guy has a great work ethic – pays off.
That’s the answer I keep coming back to, anyway. Now, what’s your take?
Tap-In Question: What do you do with Chris Tillman?