We all know it: Tillman can't keep starting for this team (and thoughts on Saturday afternoon's starter) - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Dan Connolly

We all know it: Tillman can’t keep starting for this team (and thoughts on Saturday afternoon’s starter)

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

We all know it.

Chris Tillman can’t start another game for the Orioles right now, not with the way he has continued to struggle.

On Thursday against the Kansas City Royals, Tillman allowed a single, two walks and then a grand slam to Salvador Perez before recording an out. He escaped further damage in the first, and the Orioles scored three runs in the bottom of the inning to dig out of the four-run hole.

And then Tillman surrendered two more runs (one earned) in the second inning on a seeing-eye single before he was mercifully pulled by manager Buck Showalter.

“Same challenges he’s had. Stuff was a little short and command was short. That’s a bad combination,” Showalter said. “It’s tough to watch him struggle like that, especially with the success he’s had in the past.”

That’s five runs allowed in 1 1/3 innings Thursday on the heels of his one-inning, seven-run stint in Anaheim last week. So Tillman, whose ERA is 10.46 in seven starts this year, has allowed 12 runs in 2 1/3 innings in his last two starts, after giving up just one hit in seven scoreless innings April 27 versus Detroit.

“It’s frustrating any time it happens. One in a row, two in a row, it really doesn’t matter,” Tillman said. “It’s always frustration. As starters we know we’ve got to get deeper in the game and give the team a better chance to win than that.”

Including his disastrous season in 2017, Tillman has pitched to an 8.42 ERA in his last 31 games (26 starts) – the highest ERA of any major league pitcher over that stretch with a minimum of seven starts.

His results – somehow – are worse than last year, when his season didn’t start until May due to shoulder discomfort.

There’s not much more to say here.

This appears to be the end of the line for Tillman as an Oriole starter, maybe as an Oriole.

That shutout against Detroit was an outlier, not a sign of things to come. The Orioles – out of contention or not – can’t keep starting a guy who has completed four innings or fewer in four of his seven starts.

Showalter, who is exceptionally loyal to his veterans – at times to a fault – understands that, though he’s not going to publicly hammer Tillman, who was arguably the Orioles’ best starter in each of their three playoff seasons under Showalter.

“We’ll look at it and if there’s an adjustment we’re ready to make and how we’re comfortable how it affects everything else,” Showalter said. “Nobody knows better than Chris — and everybody involved — that that’s not good enough to get us where we need to (be). He’s had a couple decent games, but it’s just been frustrating for him and us.”

Tillman said he’s not thinking about whether he has lost his rotation or roster spot – his mindset has to be on fixing his command.

“I can’t worry about that. I’ve got to focus on what I’ve got to do to get better,” Tillman said. “That’s the bottom line. I have to. I’ve gotta stay focused on the game plan and keep working.”

I’ve been a Tillman supporter for years. I advocated for the club to re-sign him this winter, thinking 2017 was likely an aberration due to his truncated offseason the previous year. And I’ve seen this guy battle his way back every time the odds were against him.

But there comes a point when no matter how seriously a guy takes his craft, no matter how hard he works and no matter how stand-up of a person he is, results matter most. He has to get batters out. And he’s trying to do it with a fastball averaging 89 mph, a changeup that’s 83 and little feel for his breaking pitches – or, really, any of his offerings.

The problem is he’s not a reliever, either. So putting him in the bullpen makes little sense.

The easy answer is to place him on the disabled list and have him try to work his way back while pitching in the minors. But if he isn’t hurt, that’s not supposed to be an option. Sure, the Orioles have had plenty of phantom injuries in the past – Ubaldo Jimenez and the parking lot hole, and the mysterious Ryan Flaherty Flu are two that immediately come to mind – but that probably can’t work here.

Tillman said again Thursday, “I feel good,” when asked about his health.

So, then what?

His contract has roughly $2.3 million guaranteed remaining on that deal. Not chump change, but not prohibitive for the Orioles to eat if they decide this is it for Tillman.

They could always designate him for assignment, put him on waivers and, when he clears, then ask him to go the minors. But, given his service time, Tillman can refuse that request and become a free agent. And the Orioles would be on the hook for the remaining salary if he signs elsewhere – with the exception of a prorated portion of the league’s minimum $545,000 salary.

I can’t imagine another club would claim Tillman on waivers and pick up that contract (that includes incentives, too). But I’m sure another club would take a flyer – albeit one with a minor-league provision – banking that they can fix what the Orioles couldn’t.

The bottom line here is there are few options; none good.

It’s one of those tough times in this game when it’s probably best for both sides to amicably part ways, no matter how great the marriage once was.

Who’s up for Saturday afternoon?

The best sense was that right-hander Miguel Castro will get his first start of the 2018 season in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays.

But due to Tillman’s short outing, Castro was needed to come into Thursday’s game in the second inning.

He pitched well, throwing 4 2/3 scoreless innings for the win. He allowed four hits and two walks, committed a balk and threw a wild pitch while striking out a batter. He threw 65 pitches, however, so that takes him out of contention for Saturday’s start.

Showalter confirmed that after Thursday’s outing.

Another possibility for Saturday, 24-year-old right-hander David Hess, allowed just one hit and struck out 10 batters for Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday morning. He’s on the 40-man roster, and has already been called to the majors once (but didn’t pitch) this year.

Because he threw 84 pitches Tuesday, however, the Orioles aren’t likely to have him make his first big league start on short rest, though they could call him up to be in the bullpen.

It was short-sighted to have him start Tuesday, but what is done is done.

Otherwise, options are limited on the 40-man roster. Jimmy Yacabonis would be on regular turn, but he hasn’t pitched deep while starting in Norfolk. It’s possible he and Hess could be called up together and could tag team the start – the Orioles are allowed a 26th man for the doubleheader.

Or Mike Wright could get his third start of the season, but he allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings on Tuesday. Top prospect Hunter Harvey threw five innings Wednesday at Double-A Bowie, so count him out, too.

All we know for sure is Alex Cobb will pitch the nightcap.

And the possibilities for Saturday are far from ideal.

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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Bancells Moustache

    May 11, 2018 at 12:13 am

    Indeed your dancing days are done
    Tilly we hardly knew ya

  2. Bancells Moustache

    May 11, 2018 at 12:15 am

    If David Hess hasn’t been given his well deserved shot at pitching in the big league and Chris Tillman is still on this team in 24 hours, then Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette need to be fired and never work in professional baseball again. Period.

    • Dan Connolly

      May 11, 2018 at 2:05 am

      I’d imagine, regardless of Tillman, we could see Hess by Saturday.

  3. cowhand214

    May 11, 2018 at 12:54 am

    It’s a sad thing but both the results and simply as a matter of common humanity they can’t put him out there again. It would be great if he accepts a minor league assignment but that doesn’t really seem to happen. If he doesn’t then it’s just time to shake hands and part ways. The Orioles had three years of success with Tillman and he was well compensated for his work. There’s no point in continuing a relationship that isn’t working.

    I feel bad for Tillman, it’s never fun to see anyone struggle, and I feel bad for us as fans who would have loved to root for his comeback. But it’s time.

  4. ubetonit

    May 11, 2018 at 1:23 am

    I texted a friend in NoVa from a legal sports book Atlantis Casino when the O’s were still one run behind “Tillman gives up 5 runs but O’s probably win b/c beisbol pendulum has swung the other way”.

    IOW, Tillman’s problems weren’t going to stop them from winning on this day.

    They’re still bad, really bad, but that’s beisbol. I had already bet NYY +1.5 & StL Cards at a WmHill book

    • Dan Connolly

      May 11, 2018 at 2:06 am

      It’s a funny game. And one is never trust myself to bet on.

  5. Boog Robinson Robinson

    May 11, 2018 at 8:07 am

    Even #22 eventually hit the wall. Always a tough call to let a key, and long time member of a team go.
    To quote Brenda Lee, “Break it to me gently. Let me down the easy way”.

    • Dan Connolly

      May 11, 2018 at 8:23 am

      Problem is the guy is only 30. I’m sure it would be easier on both ends if he were 35+

  6. karks

    May 11, 2018 at 8:41 am

    It’s just sad to see Tillman struggle so much. You think of how he has battled back from so much adversity in his career. But what else can he do? There’s just no way to keep a pitcher who is putting up those kinds of numbers.

    I’m all for letting Castro get in that spot, at least for a little bit. This team isn’t exactly heading to the playoffs so you might as well take a look and see what he can do.

    • Dan Connolly

      May 11, 2018 at 11:09 am

      Agreed on Castro. He might be able to do it.

  7. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    May 11, 2018 at 8:53 am

    I always thought that Tillman was an under rated pitcher. He was a key member of the Orioles success the past 5 years. Pitching well for 6+innings then turning it over to a lock down bull pen. Unfortunately, it’s better for both parties to end this relationship.

    • Dan Connolly

      May 11, 2018 at 11:10 am

      Tillman was this recent org’s bulldog. He was Best when counted out.

  8. OrioleMaze

    May 11, 2018 at 9:02 am

    We saw him pitch brilliantly against Detroit with Caleb catching. His last two starts have been with Chance behind the plate which was a little head scratching.
    Pedro Alvarez swallowed his pride and went to AAA. My hope is that he passes through waivers and accepts an assignment there.
    I think he just needs work but we can’t have him doing it up here anymore.

    • Paul Folkemer

      May 11, 2018 at 9:23 am

      I don’t think the catcher has much to do with it. Even with that one great start, Tillman’s ERA with Caleb catching this year is 6.92. Last year, it was 6.85. No catcher is going to bring Tillman’s velocity and command back.

  9. Paul Folkemer

    May 11, 2018 at 9:21 am

    Here’s another possible starter for Saturday: Jayson Aquino. He made a couple spot starts last year for the Orioles and held his own. He last pitched May 7 for Bowie, so he’d be on his regular turn on Saturday. Aquino’s not on the 40-man, but the O’s could find a way to clear a spot for him, especially if they end up DFA’ing Tillman.

    • Dan Connolly

      May 11, 2018 at 11:14 am

      I suppose. But rarely does a pitcher get demoted a Minor league level and then promoted to the majors in a week.

      • Paul Folkemer

        May 11, 2018 at 1:25 pm

        The Orioles are nothing if not unconventional.

  10. BunkerFan

    May 11, 2018 at 10:04 am

    Tim Melville has been an effective starter for Norfolk this year. He’s 4-0 with a 2.86 ERA, if memory serves. He last started on May 6 so he’s on proper rest. AND he has experience in the Show, albeit 6 games of it. If Hess, who is most deserving, isn’t able to start, then Melville looks like a decent alternative. Of course, another option is to move Bundy up to Saturday (he didn’t exactly pitch a full game his last time out) and bring up Hess to start Sunday.
    As for Tilly, I would hope he’d take the opportunity to go down to the minors and try to rediscover his craft. He also looks like he’s lost both velocity and location, and that’s a bad combination to lose. 17 years ago, a young and successful starter for the Jays named Roy Halladay, had similar problems and the Jays sent him to single A to work them out. He spent more than half of the 2001 season in the minors but regained his touch and went on to have a pretty decent career. Why not do this with Tillman? Why wouldn’t Tillman agree to this? Things just can’t go on like this.

    • Dan Connolly

      May 11, 2018 at 11:15 am

      Melville is a name, too. Again a 40-man issue for one spot start.

    • Mool Tittle

      May 11, 2018 at 12:54 pm

      I second Tim Melville to make a spot start on Saturday.
      He looked good in spring training, he has MLB experience, and he is pitching well for Norfolk.
      Why isn’t he getting any attention???
      Also, he is 28 years old, and a former top prospect who has had injuries. I would **much** rather call him up than Aquino or Hess (let Hess get a few more starts at AAA) or anyone else who is still developing in the minors.
      Melville has earned a start in the majors, and it’s time for the club to see what he’s got.

      As for Tillman, his first stop should be to a doctor to have his shoulder checked again, whether it feels OK or not, to rule out any remaining physical problem.

  11. JParsley

    May 11, 2018 at 10:15 am

    8.42 ERA in 31 starts. That has to be one of those horrible records the O’s seem to have a lot of. Such as 17 games back the earliest ever in a season, 21 losses in a row, 10 earned runs without recording an out, gave up 30 runs in a game. there is probably many more of these not records throughout the years. Sure every team has at least one of these records, but they have already set 2 in the first 6 weeks awful. At least we have Manny.

    • Dan Connolly

      May 11, 2018 at 11:17 am

      I will say this. Not 31 starts. Appearances. Five were in relief. But yeah I get your point.

  12. PA Bird Lover

    May 11, 2018 at 10:34 am

    Watch, Tilly will be dfa and whoever claims him will fix his problem and he’ll resume his productive career. Remember A guy named Jake? This will be Jake 2.0

    • Dan Connolly

      May 11, 2018 at 11:18 am

      Apples and oranges. Arrieta was never a successful MLB pitcher before he left. And Tillman is now 30.

  13. pjclark4

    May 11, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    Remember that time we thought Ubaldo was bad?

    I miss those days.

    • LenSakata

      May 11, 2018 at 1:08 pm

      Is Ubaldo available? I don’t think he is signed.

  14. willmiranda

    May 11, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    Off-topic query. I know I don’t watch as much baseball as a lot of you, but I’ve seen almost no pop-ups caught by catchers recently. Am I misperceiving, or is something at work, e.g., smaller foul areas? Just a random thought, but I’d enjoy any feedback.

  15. 54orioles

    May 11, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    While it may be sad, he has the opportunity to pitch in the majors and his has done well if he really wants to pitch at this level again he needs to accept a step down to AAA on prove he can do it again. These guys make more money than nearly everyone else for a reason. The door swings both ways. Sorry to see him go and hope for the Orioles same he makes it back. The Os have invested millions on him. I fell sorry for the Os

  16. JerseyOsFan

    May 11, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    Can the Birds put Tillman in (long) relief or will that not work out either… or have we seen that movie before and I forgot the ending??? I can’t seem to get the stats from his non-starts from last year…

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