The Orioles improved to 16-11 in two-run games tonight, 26-2 when their starter goes seven innings or more and 51-28 when they hit a home run.
They’re also pretty good when Chris Tillman is dealing.
Tillman won his fourth consecutive start and improved to 5-1 with a 2.38 ERA.
“It’s an ongoing proving ground. He knows that,” said manager Buck Showalter. “I’ve said many times, his make-up and mentality will be an asset for him. He’s good, especially the second time you see a team, when there’s not much ambush there. And seeing seven left-handed hitters.
“You’ve heard me say a lot when you talk to pitching coordinators and pitching coaches, down there (in the minors) a left-handed pitcher may see four left-handed hitters in the lineup. Up here, they’re going to see eight right-handers. Same way with a right-hander. Chris can defend himself against left-handed hitters.”
Showalter knew it was important for Tillman to avoid falling behind in the first inning, but he’s glad the right-hander didn’t obsess over it.
“Part of why I likes Chris’ mentality is he doesn’t overthink it - ‘Now that I’ve gotten through the first inning, the game’s over.’ Or, ‘If I give up a run in the first inning, is the game over?’ I think he’s trying to make pitches to each hitter and seeing how deep he can go in the game. Simple as that,” Showalter said.
“He got some outs early in the count. The changeup, Matt (Wieters) did another good job with him there. He used, really, four pitches tonight.”
It appears that Tillman has finally shaken the flu bug.
“He had that little swollen-eye look that, well I don’t get it, but from sleeping a lot,” Showalter said. “He’s had five days’ rest this time, too. We really wanted to give everybody the benefit of an extra day with 20-some games in a row, so he feels good. I don’t know if he’d tell us if he didn’t, but that’s Chris.”
Here’s more from Showalter:
Could he have envisioned that the rotation would perform this well after he lost so many starters to demotions and injuries?
“Yeah, I could because one of the big things we wanted to attack in the offseason was our what-if and the depth of people at the Triple-A level, so we don’t look at it as a 25-man roster, we look at it as 40 to 50 guys, and I think we’re able to bring some people in because the one thing we can offer that other two or three teams - you know who I’m talking about - can’t offer, is opportunity. We can offer opportunity, so we played that pretty good. A lot of it is coming from within, some from other places, but we’ve had to make a lot of moves to keep the ship in the water. And we’ll continue to do that. If we have to do something that gives us a couple of inches better competitively, we’re going to do it.
“Somebody was saying that Norfolk is close to an International League record for moves in a season. Of course, a lot of that, they’re counting ones from Frederick and Bowie and whatever, but I’m OK with that. I think it shows an aggressiveness from our organization and our front office to be as good as we can on a given night. We’ve at least kept our bullpen intact because we’ve always had a fresh arm here to keep from overusing people.”
Does Showalter think Tillman is especially motivated to pitch well against the Mariners?
“Once again, knowing Chris, he doesn’t belabor that. He’s just trying to establish himself and give us a chance to win. Not in that order. Chris likes to win. He likes for us to do well. He’s got a quiet burn there. He doesn’t back off the competition. You want a message sent or something done, Chris has no problem doing something from a team standpoint.”
Did Showalter always envision Tillman that way?
“What happens is we’re so quick to stereotype people, whether they’re from Latin America or some place because of the experiences we’ve had. Chris, that was the one thing that I thought he was carrying well was the competitive part of it. And in a good way. He doesn’t try to out-think himself.
“He came off the mound and was ticked off about the play we worked on in spring about the bunt that he’s got to get around on and attack and not let the ball get to the second baseman. That’s all that he talked about, because he knew that we worked on it and he didn’t quite execute it. If he takes another step deeper, he could have got the out.”