Dark clouds rolled into Camden Yards, the tarp is on the field and the start of tonight’s game will be delayed. The grounds crew got the infield ready before covering it.
This will be the 10th delay endured by the Orioles this season, including a postponement in D.C. Eight of them have occurred at Camden Yards.
Chris Tillman is listed as Sunday’s starter against the Rays at Tropicana Field, just as manager Buck Showalter stated following last night’s game. Tillman remains in the rotation despite an 8.39 ERA and 2.168 WHIP in 39 2/3 innings.
“What am I going to say?” Showalter said when reminded of his statement last night. “I’m not going to have him ... The last thing he needs is having a manager question that.”
The alternative is using Tillman in relief, which he hasn’t done in his 188 major league games over nine seasons. Showalter seems inclined to avoid that scenario as long as possible.
“Some of it is his ability to pitch out of the ‘pen would be a challenge anyway,” Showalter said. “We see his work days, we know in between.
“Chris knows that an 8.00 ERA in the American League after, what, nine starts? Not good enough. And he knows if we have to make an adjustment, we will. But you potentially get better in one place, but you’re going to harm some other things.”
The Orioles have bounced Ubaldo Jiménez between the rotation and bullpen, doing it again this season, but it doesn’t necessarily work for every pitcher.
“Ubaldo is a little bit more equipped for it physically,” Showalter said. “Ubaldo has been healthy, post-up, make his starts, and it’s been remarkable. I mean, you compare him with pitchers with that many starts in baseball in general and you’ll be challenged to come up with many that can compare with him. So as far as that four years, it’s been pretty special statistically to post up and make that many starts in a row. He’s a little different where he is physically than where Chris is.”
The Orioles were counting on big seasons from Tillman and Kevin Gausman and so far have been left disappointed. Gausman, who starts tonight after the weather allows it, has a 6.60 ERA and 1.920 WHIP in 75 innings over his 15 starts. He’s posted a -0.7 WAR compared to 4.2 last season. Tillman has a -1.1 WAR this year compared to 4.1 in 2016.
Does Showalter wake up this morning feeling that all of Gausman’s troubles could vanish with this start, or is it more of a process?
“We’re all worriers, but he’s healthy, he feels good,” Showalter said. “I was talking to Dylan (Bundy) in the dugout last night. Dylan’s bluntly honest and I think Kevin is, too. They know how important it is for the club for them to pitch well.
“I get it a lot where Manny (Machado) will have a good day and then, OK, everything’s solid, here he goes back to this. And this guy has a good outing, so everything’s fine now. I wish that was the case. But this is a real good test here, this offensive team. I expect them to win the division. And they’re swinging the bat well top to bottom.
“What’s tough about that, too, is in years past when a guy’s been struggling, they had five or six good innings under their belt, competitive innings, maybe gave up two runs, you’d think about taking them out and letting them build on that. But where we are in our bullpen and the way we’ve been taxed, it’s hard to do that. And the people you bring in may not have the experience level to be pitching at that point in the game. You look at our bullpen for tonight’s game. There are certain things we’re not going to do physically.”
The Orioles keep waiting for Gausman to figure it out, for something to click that enables him to pitch as he did in the second half of last season. He posted a 3.10 ERA in 15 starts after the break.
“There’s not a program for this. ‘OK, he’s having trouble. Let’s put in that program,’ ” Showalter said. “I see all the things that he and them do between starts. Heck, I can’t beat Roger (McDowell) here and I have to make him leave. It’s video, it’s mechanically. He’s basically Dave Wallace. He and Wally are very much the same, so they talk a lot.
“It’s hard to do. Did I think he was automatically going to come in here? So many things happen in baseball. You see, OK, he did this, and the second half, and he’s got this good arm and boy it’s going to carry right over and he’s your opening day starter. A lot because Chris wasn’t healthy. And the next thing you know, something that you weren’t expecting, but you knew it was a possibility.
“This is hard, man. These guys are good. And you make enough mistakes, I don’t care how hard you throw. You think it’s just running out there and running out there and running out there and see if it will just miraculously change through osmosis. It’s not the case. They’ve tried a lot of different things. In fact, there’s a little something different going on tonight.
“Like Roger said, ‘Where do you feel more comfortable? Tell me what you think. Where would you want to stand on the rubber? Where do you want your hands? Where do you want the swing of your leg to be? Where do you want your foot to be at striking point when your arm is in the release point?’ There’s a million things going on here. Sometimes, nothing going on. What’s the thing from ‘For Love of the Game’? Clear the mechanism.”
Showalter won’t buy the theory that the staff’s collective struggles contribute to Gausman’s regression.
“That would be a convenient excuse that it’s Chris Tillman’s fault that Gausman’s not pitching as well as he’s capable of. That it’s this guy’s fault,” Showalter said. “Heck, Dylan’s in the top 10 in ERA. So was (Wade) Miley. They pitched some good games. And they pitched - they’d be the first to tell you - what do they call them, stinkers? I’ve been there.”
Showalter is more encouraged by Zach Britton’s appearance last night at short-season Single-A Aberdeen and how his closer feels today.
“Talked to Zach a little bit and some of the people who were there last night, so that went well. He’ll head over to Delmarva,” Showalter said
“I could tell today, his face and just his whole demeanor, getting that first one behind him. A lot of the, not anxiety, but the anticipation. He’s kind of in a groove.”
Update: Indians catcher Roberto Pérez broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fifth inning with an RBI double off Gausman after Bradley Zimmer singled. Francisco Lindor followed with a two-run homer to center field to increase the lead to 3-0.