The next time right-hander Chris Tillman enters a game for the Orioles it will be his first major league appearance as a reliever after 194 starts in the big leagues.
The way he was pitching – an 8.10 ERA in 15 starts – he knew his days in the rotation were likely numbered. That was confirmed after talking with manager Buck Showalter – which he said was not a pleasant conversation, but one that was looming.
“It’s not easy. I’ve never seen myself in that spot, but you know what? I haven’t been pitching well enough. I understand. I’m not mad. I just need to get better,” Tillman said. “I’m not going to go down there and mope around. I’m going to go down there for one reason, and one reason only, and that’s to get better and get back to being who I know I can be. It hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s not gone. I just need to get back to it.”
Tillman, 29, hasn’t pitched in relief since one outing for Triple-A Norfolk in 2012. Before that, he hasn’t been a reliever since 2006, his first year as a professional when he made five relief appearances in rookie ball in the Seattle Mariners’ organization.
“I’ve never done so before. I’m going to do this to the best of my ability to be ready. I know I can be ready,” he said. “I don’t know what the adjustment period is going to be like for now. I’ve got a lot of guys here that can help me, walk me through it. There’s a lot of guys who have been starters out there.”
Tillman said he’s talked with both Ubaldo Jimenez and Zach Britton about the transitions they’ve made from rotation to relief. Jimenez has done it several times with the Orioles, and usually seems to be better when he re-enters the rotation.
Showalter said that’s the hope for Tillman.
“Chris is the ultimate, ‘What’s-best-for-the-team’ guy. Believe me, you may not always see it, he wears it. It bothers him,” Showalter said. “He wants what’s best for the team. Like I said when we put Ubaldo down there, I’ll bet you that we’re gonna have a need, and Chris is gonna be ready to serve it.”
Tillman, who last started Thursday, said he is ready to pitch Sunday if needed. He’s not sure what will occur, but he feels like he can adapt to being a reliever for now. And that he can still contribute for this team in 2017. He’s not sure what Showalter has in mind for his first outing, but assumes the manager has already worked out several scenarios.
“There’s always a method to his madness. He never just kind of throws you out there to the dogs,” Tillman said. “He normally has an idea and a plan as to what he wants to do. So, I’m assuming there’s something. I haven’t heard anything.”