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We all knew it would be a tough opening assignment for Chris Tillman.
After his disaster of a 2017 season, Tillman’s first outing in 2018 would come against the defending World Champion Houston Astros in their electric home opener Monday at Minute Maid Park.
The results weren’t good for the Orioles, the sagging offense and Tillman in the 6-1 loss.
The 29-year-old right-hander lasted four innings plus one batter, surrendering four runs on four walks and seven hits, including a home run.
Yes, the Astros can mash. So, in one sense, escaping with just four runs allowed while permitting 11 baserunners is probably a victory in itself.
But in the majors, moral victories don’t count in the stat sheet. They certainly don’t for the proud Tillman, either.
What counts is performance.
Tillman had very little command Monday. He threw 84 pitches and only 45 were strikes. He didn’t punch out a batter despite facing 23 of them.
Here’s one legitimate issue: According to ESPN Stats, Tillman was throwing his fastball between 88 and 91 mph, and his changeup between 82 and 84 mph. At times, there was just a 5-mph difference in one batter’s sequence. You’d ideally like to see a 10-mph separation.
Here’s a bigger issue: Tillman threw first-pitch strikes to nine of the 23 batters he faced. Last season, when Tillman had a 7.84 ERA, he threw first-pitch strikes 47.5 percent of the time, worst in the majors among qualifiers and well below the 61 percent league average, according to ESPN.
So, in his first start of 2018, he didn’t throw strikes, didn’t get ahead in counts, didn’t miss bats. Which, as we all know, is what happened more times than not with Tillman in 2017.
Now, as I’ve written about Andrew Cashner and Kevin Gausman, it’s only one start in April. That same distinction should be afforded to Tillman.
He told reporters he felt like his arsenal Monday was so much better than it was in 2017, he just couldn’t command the fastball.
And, again, Monday was against the Astros, who have a ridiculously dangerous lineup from top to bottom. Tillman’s next start isn’t much easier, though – in Yankee Stadium this weekend.
Still, he is going to have to be better to justify his rotation spot. He understands that.
The Orioles were betting on his competitiveness when they re-signed Tillman to a one-year, $3 million deal in February.
It was a calculated risk that he could rebound from 2017. I liked it then.
But, some point soon, the results have to start matching the faith.
Twins’ Sisco complaint is silly
Much was made on social media about a couple of Minnesota Twins, including well-respected second baseman Brian Dozier, complaining about rookie catcher Chance Sisco’s bunt in the ninth inning on Sunday.
Facing a right-side shift, Sisco pushed a bunt to third base and easily made it down the line for his and the club’s second hit of the afternoon. I thought nothing of it at the time except, “Boy, fans are gonna have a field day with this – with a rookie bunting for a single in the shift, but not a veteran like Chris Davis.”
I never thought the Twins would take exception to it, despite being up 7-0 and Jose Berrios attempting to complete a one-hitter.
But they did.
Dozier, among other Twins, said after the game that Sisco went against baseball’s unwritten code and shouldn’t be bunting given the circumstances. He said the Orioles’ veterans should, and would, instruct Sisco about it.
Dozier, of course, was skewered by most baseball people, and clarified his statements Monday, saying the Orioles didn’t hold runner Ryan LaMarre at first base with two outs in the ninth and LaMarre didn’t attempt to steal. The Twins were playing it in that respectful, old-school way, and the Orioles should have done that, too, Dozier reasoned.
I don’t waste too much time on this, because it is silly.
But let me add two things: One, the Twins were shifting in the ninth inning. So, all bets are off in the old-school argument.
Secondly, teaching a young player baseball’s right way should come with the caveat that you should do anything in your power, legally, to help your team win, no matter the score. Sisco did that and got a one-out single. He did it right.
As for the veterans teaching Sisco, Davis came to his young teammate’s defense Monday, telling The Baltimore Sun that Sisco was trying to jumpstart the offense against a tired pitcher and that Davis would have done the exact same thing – bunted on the left side against the shift – if Sisco had gotten out. In fact, Davis told Sisco that plan before Sisco’s at bat, according to the Sun.
So, bottom line: Silly controversy, silly unwritten code.
Thoughts on Monday’s moves
The Orioles made three minor moves on Monday, all worth mentioning, none particularly significant. The main one to keep your eye on is the minor league signing of left-handed hitting outfielder Michael Saunders.
The Orioles and executive vice president Dan Duquette have coveted Saunders multiple times, but never landed him. The club had some conversations this winter with Saunders’ agent, but they decided to sign Colby Rasmus instead. Meanwhile, Saunders signed a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was released and signed with the Kansas City Royals but didn’t make their Opening Day squad.
Saunders, 31, will begin at Triple-A Norfolk, and may stay there. He had a rough season last year — .202 average in 73 games with Toronto and Philadelphia – and has battled injuries much of his career.
But he’s had some success when healthy (a 2016 All Star), and he loves to hit at Camden Yards. No one active has a higher on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.129) in at least 20 games played there. Saunders has hit .310 at the Yards in his career.
If Rasmus isn’t hitting or if he gets hurt, I could see Saunders in the majors. Or he might spend the rest of the year in Triple- A. It’s one of those no-harm, no-foul Duquette insurance policies.
The other two moves were trades of pitchers that the Orioles designated for assignment Thursday. They sent right-hander Stefan Crichton to the Arizona Diamondbacks for future considerations and Jesus Liranzo to the Los Angeles Dodgers for lefty reliever Luis Ysla, who will head to Double-A Bowie.
Ysla, 25, will be joining his fourth organization after being traded for the third time. He had a 5.28 ERA at Double-A for the Dodgers and Boston Red Sox organizations in 2017, walking 39 and striking out 52 in 58 innings.
The Orioles figured Crichton might be claimed on waivers and it was almost a certainty that the hard-throwing, 23-year-old Liranzo would be. The Orioles loved his arm and makeup, but Liranzo just couldn’t throw strikes consistently.
Now both are in the minors for other organizations, while the Orioles created necessary room on their 40-man roster for players like Rasmus and Pedro Alvarez.
Radio musings with Hoch
If you didn’t catch my radio show Monday streaming on woyk1350.com or live on the York, Pa., station, you can access it below. It includes my thoughts on the first weekend of the Orioles’ season as well as an interview with MLB.com’s New York Yankees reporter, Bryan Hoch.
We talk about the 2018 Yankees, whom the Orioles will face for a four-game series in the Bronx beginning Thursday. We also discuss Hoch’s new book, “The Baby Bombers: The Inside Story of the Next Yankees Dynasty.” And, yes, we discussed that subtitle (spoiler alert: Hoch didn’t pick it). It’s worth checking out the show below or download it as a podcast on iTunes.