If you thought that winning a career-high nine games and posting an ERA under 3.00 last year would have Chris Tillman making assumptions about his place in the Orioles' rotation, well, guess again.
Those nine wins are two more than his major league total coming into the 2012 season. He's out of minor league options, another point in his favor. And yet, Tillman plans on reporting to spring training as if he's fighting for a job.
"I think I've got to go with that mindset," Tillman said. "I don't want to change my mindset going into spring training. It's going to be a battle any way you look at it. We've got a bunch of guys coming in and that's what makes it fun, to tell you the truth. Being able to compete. You lose that edge, then it takes the fun out of it. I'm excited about it."
Tillman should have a ball, considering that the rotation candidates beyond Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez include last year's opening day starter, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Steve Johnson, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter. You can add Tsuyoshi Wada if he's completely recovered from ligament-reconstructive surgery on his left elbow, and former UMBC pitcher Zach Clark if you believe in long shots. Clark's on the 40-man roster and definitely on the Orioles' radar.
Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman will try to change the organization's mind about starting them at Double-A Bowie, so you can toss their names into the hat. And hey, let's not forget about Rule 5 pick T.J. McFarland.
The logjam could be loosened with a trade, but we've been speculating about one all winter. Still nothing. It could tighten if the Orioles sign a veteran starter. They want to re-sign Joe Saunders. Still nothing.
Tillman's success last season could bring a different feeling for him when pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11, "but I'm going to try to go out with the same mindset," he said.
"I know what I've got to do this spring. Last year, I was kind of trying to find myself still. I know exactly what I need to do now. I know what I need to do to get myself to where I need to be for April 1. That's my goal, April 1, and not the beginning of spring."
Asked how his success in 2012 has aided him, Tillman replied, "It's more of a confidence thing. You get those games under your belt, you get that experience under your belt, and it gives you the feeling that you can go out there and get the job done, no matter who you're facing. It's big going into the offseason and you get to relax a little bit, but at the same time, you know what you've got to do to get ready for spring training."
And to write a different ending this season after the Orioles lost to the Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Division Series.
"You start to get that itch about halfway through the offseason. Everyone I've talked to is really looking forward to getting back out there and we're excited to see what this year brings," Tillman said.
"That last game left not a very good taste in your mouth and I feel like we really want to get back after it just for that reason. You can't let it weigh you down, but at the same time it's in the back of your head, knowing that you want to be that much better so it doesn't happen again."
Shameless plug alert: I'm joining Rob Long today for "The Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" from 5-7 p.m. on MASN.