Tillman optioned to Triple-A Norfolk

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles have optioned pitcher Chris Tillman to Triple-A Norfolk, removing him from the remaining camp competitions.

Tillman, who will pitch Sunday in a minor league game at Twin Lakes Park, allowed five runs (four earned) and 12 hits in 12 1/3 innings, with three walks and six strikeouts. In his last appearance, he allowed one run and three hits in three innings Tuesday against the Twins.

This is Tillman’s final option. He’d have to pass through waivers before being sent down next spring.

“He’s made strides,” said manager Buck Showalter. “Keep in mind he’s still one of the younger guys in camp pitching-wise. Tillman’s maturity level, everything, he’s so close to putting it together. There’s a reason why he stayed here as long as he did. He made a lot of strides. I like where he is. I expect him to have a big year.”

The Orioles prefer having Tillman start in Triple-A rather than sit in their bullpen as the long reliever.

“He needs to keep the ball in his hand,” Showalter said. “He’s got some things he needs to finish off and he knows it. That’s why he shows flashes of really being a force. I’m going to be disappointed if he doesn’t have a big year. I look forward to him pitching and I look forward to getting the box score.”

The fifth spot in the rotation truly comes down to Brian Matusz and Tsuyoshi Wada. There are 15 pitchers in camp for 12 spots. Wada could be kept back in extended spring training if he doesn’t beat out Matusz. Darren O’Day and Pat Neshek could be optioned, which would leave left-handers Troy Patton and Zach Phillips to occupy the final two spots.

This scenario doesn’t give the club a true long man.

“You talk about a long reliever, we’re not talking about a guy who throws four or five innings,” Showalter said. “We’re talking about a guy who throws two or three innings. Those types of guys, it’s hard to keep them in that four or five inning mode all year because they’re going to have periods where they haven’t been able to do that in a long time.”

Showalter pointed out that the fifth starter could serve as the long man when there are open dates on the schedule.

If the Orioles keep one lefty, he can’t be a long man. That’s why it makes sense to hold onto Patton and Phillips and allow one of them on a given night to match up against a left-handed hitter - something Phillips has done quite well in the past.

It’s worth remembering that the Orioles still could make a late waiver claim or trade for another pitcher.

“Everybody’s still in the mix,” Showalter said. “There’s a lot of parts moving around. We’ll see where the chairs fall. We’ve got (four) days before the roster has to be in. We may take it right up to the end.”

Also, Wei-Yin Chen will start Sunday against the Rays. Kevin Gregg will pitch back-to-back days today and Sunday. And Jason Berken will pitch for the Orioles’ Wednesday against Norfolk, rather than represent the Tides.

The pitching shell game continues. Good luck following it.

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