Chris Tillman made his fourth start of the 2018 season Saturday night and, like, the previous three, command issues ultimately hurt him.
Tillman threw a season-high six innings in the Orioles’ 4-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians. He walked his season-low (one) and struck out his season high (five) while lowering his ERA from 11.91 to 9.87 in one game.
Statistically, Saturday was Tillman’s best start since July 17, his first outing of last year’s second half.
But four specific pitches had a direct impact on his outcome Saturday, turning what would have been a strong performance into one where positives had to be siphoned.
It didn’t take long for Tillman to be burned by control lapses.
After walking Jason Kipnis and giving up a single to Jose Ramirez in the first, Tillman threw a wild pitch – which advanced the runners 90 feet.
Cleveland scored on the next-at bat: an RBI groundout by Michael Brantley. It’s the third time in four 2018 starts that Tillman has allowed a run in the first inning.
He gave up a solo home run to Yan Gomes in the fourth – an inning after he retired the side in order — but it’s what happened in the sixth inning that again spotlighted Tillman’s lack of command.
Twice, Tillman fell behind hitters, 3-1. And twice Cleveland made him pay, with Ramirez and Yonder Alonso homering two batters apart. Ramirez hit the ball into the right field flag court while Alonso’s home run landed onto Eutaw Street on the fly – marking the first time that has happened this season.
“If I make better pitches, we’re talking about a whole different deal here, I think, and most starts, to be honest,” Tillman said. “I’ve got to make better pitches. Get ahead. I fell behind both those guys in my last inning, so stay ahead and make my pitches.”
Each solo shot was off Tillman’s four-seam fastball, clocking in between 86-88 mph, according to MLB Gameday. He threw 83 pitches, 51 strikes.
Afterward, Orioles manager Buck Showalter offered a glass-half-full outlook on his former top starter.
“He was better,” Showalter said. “There were a couple pitches he’d probably like to have back. … (He) has had a long period of success and a period (that’s) not like he’s capable of or has done in the past. So, you’re looking for anything. I’d like to say it’s a process. There will be another challenge around the corner. But I thought he presented himself better than he has his other outings.”
Showalter said the game came down to Baltimore’s offense and the opposing pitcher, right-hander Mike Clevinger.
Clevinger tossed nine shutout innings, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out three. Manny Machado and Chance Sisco had the lone hits.
This game, though, was unquestionably a “Chris Tillman Watch.”
After three rough starts this year and an abysmal 2017 in which he posted a 7.84 ERA in 24 games, the fair question was what happens if Tillman crumbled again Saturday.
And he was better. There were positives. But spotty command in key moments made the results not quite good enough.
Sisco nabs three would-be basestealers
Chance Sisco and Caleb Joseph have split time behind the plate this season.
With Joseph struggling offensively, Sisco has been getting increasing opportunities. Saturday night, he took advantage.
In his 10th start behind the plate, Sisco caught three Cleveland baserunners attempting to steal, earning the catcher hat-trick. He’s now 7-for-11 in thwarting stolen base attempts in 2018.
“That was fun to watch,” Showalter said. “He and (bench coach John Russell) have worked real hard at it. Keep in mind, this guy was a lot more shortstop than he was catcher coming out of high school, so he’s come a long way. I know he should take a lot of pride in it.”
The first attempt occurred after Ramirez’s home run in the sixth. Brantley reached on a single and was caught stealing during Edwin Encarnacion’s at-bat. That was a big play as Alonso slugged the inning’s second home run after Encarnacion struck out looking.
An inning later, Sisco threw out Lindor, which ended the seventh.
The Orioles 2013 2nd round selection capped it off in the ninth, gunning down Rajai Davis, who attempted to steal third.
“You get a young catcher like that and they’re going to test him,” Showalter added. “You can see they’re going to keep pushing. They’ll do it again (Sunday). Hopefully, he’ll keep throwing them out if he’s playing.”
Gentry leads off while Mancini is sidelined
Outfielder Craig Gentry became the Orioles’ fourth leadoff hitter of the season Saturday.
The change was necessitated after Trey Mancini suffered a knee injury Friday while attempting to make a sliding catch in foul territory.
An MRI showed no structural damage, but there’s no specific timeline for Mancini’s return. The hope is he won’t need a disabled-list stint.
“I think we’ll know a lot more in 24 hours,” Showalter said Saturday night. “It’s a short turnaround from (Friday). … I’m hoping the next day or two he’s moved toward getting back in the lineup. … He’s pretty sore.”
Mancini was in the leadoff spot for 14 consecutive games and started all 20 of the Orioles’ contests before Saturday.