Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman flew into Baltimore yesterday afternoon, an early arrival for this weekend's FanFest activities.
So much has changed since the last time he signed autographs at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Tillman was out of options and trying to make the club. Now he's the favorite to take the ball on opening day.
What's the mindset this spring?
"First, you've got to be ready. You've got to be ready for your teammates," Tillman said last night on the "Hot Stove Baseball" show on WBAL Radio. "They've got to be able to count on you in the first game, whenever that may be. That's my main goal.
"I've got to go in camp with the same thought process. We're all out there competing and they're going to take the best 25 guys north. That's just part of it, the competition. I do enjoy it. I think as a young guy, you've really got to buy into that competition. because you feed off each other. Once you get that down and you get the feel for the way it works, it's a lot of fun."
No matter what happens with the rotation, and the Orioles are in the running to sign A.J. Burnett, Tillman will most likely oppose Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester on opening day.
"I think it's special," he said. "Being in spring training the last few years and watching guys get the news that they're doing it, they've always been humbled and proud. Watching (Jason) Hammel do it last year, I'll tell you what, it's fun to watch. That opening day at Camden Yards, there's nothing better."
Tillman has been working out in California with Brady Anderson, sticking primarily with his usual routine. He went 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA in 33 starts last season and made the All-Star team. No reason for wholesale changes. Just keep building on what he's done.
"We've pretty much stuck to the same game plan. Started the same time. Mixed in the same things that we did last year," Tillman said.
"The only thing I changed is I started throwing a little bit earlier this year. I took my time last year and it worked out well, but I started to throw a little earlier this year just to get it ready, get it going for spring training."
Tillman had a chance to meet pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti in California, immediately after they left the mini-camp in Sarasota. Another positive review.
"It was awesome," Tillman said. "We got to talk a little bit. The first impression was really laid back. They kind of just sat back and watched us do what we did. We trained with Brady. We threw off the mound a little bit and then went to work out and had a little conversation with them."
The pitchers I've talked to appreciate how Wallace isn't trying to make immediate changes, and how he encourages them to seek input from others in the organization
"What he tried to get across to us was, it's not going to hurt his feelings if we need to talk to someone that worked well with us in the past, or anything we can think of that could help us as a person and a pitcher, and it's good to hear that," Tillman said.
"I haven't gotten to know him real well yet, but the first impression is real good."
One of the more interesting storylines in camp will involve Zach Britton, who's out of options and trying to be the 2014 version of Tillman. He's also been working out with Anderson.
"I think he really knows what he's got to do and he knows what he's capable of," Tillman said. "He's had a little bit of a rough go, but he knows exactly what he's capable of and what he needs to do and how to get it done. I think he went into this offseason with the right mindset, from what I've been hearing. And I'll tell you one thing, he's definitely coming into spring training in shape this year."