If I decide to rank the frequency of certain questions directed at me, especially in radio interviews, anything pertaining to Chris Tillman is bound to be near the top of the list.
What happened to Tillman? What was wrong with Tillman?
I can offer theories and repeat how Tillman kept insisting that the condition of his right shoulder wasn’t an issue. He was fine physically. It seemed to be more mechanical.
If it happened to be something simple, Tillman probably would have been able to correct it while working with pitching coach Roger McDowell and bullpen coach Alan Mills.
In his final appearance of the season, and perhaps as an Oriole, Tillman was charged with three runs in two innings against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Two of the runs scored after rookie Jimmy Yacabonis replaced him, but he walked three batters and hit one.
Why couldn’t Tillman get back to his old form?
“You know, that’s a very good question because that’s what we’re paid to do,” said manager Buck Showalter. “We’re paid to figure those things out.”
And Tillman is paid to get outs. It just didn’t happen with the usual frequency.
“I know what I think and I feel very strongly about it, but it would be something that doesn’t really need to be out there publicly the way that ...” Showalter said.
“We’re going to try to fix it if Chris is back with us next year. A lot of it’s got to do with his offseason and what happens and what he wasn’t able to do this past offseason and what works and what doesn’t. You’ve got to figure out whether this is a trend that’s going to continue or whether it’s something that you can fix in the offseason.”
Not getting the expected results from Tillman and closer Zach Britton contributed mightily to the Orioles’ tumble from playoff team to last place. They somehow made a run at the second wild card before losing 19 of their last 23 games.
Everyone has their tales of woe, of course. No one is feeling sorry for the Orioles.
“I’ll let other people weigh in on that, the excuses, whether it’s (J.J.) Hardy being out or whether this guy’s out or whoever’s out,” Showalter said. “I’ll let other people. I’m not in the business of saying, ‘If this didn’t happen,’ because something else is going to happen next year. It’s part of, what are your what ifs?
“I knew with the offseason that Chris had to have that there was going to be a challenge for him this year. And with the amount of wear and tear from a mental and emotional and physical thing that the possibility with Zach is always there. And you’ve always got to say, ‘what if?’
“You don’t want to assume because he saved an historical amount of games in that period consecutively that it’s going to continue the next year. You make a lot of mistakes as a manager and front office people if you say the exact same things that happened one year are going to happen (again), good and bad. And you can be surprised by them. So, I’ve never really been surprised by things like that because you know how fragile this all is.”
Tillman registered only one win, in his first outing on May 7, to stay tied with Sidney Ponson for 12th place on the club’s all-time list with 73.
Left-handers are hitting .257 against Tillman in his career, but they produced a slash line of .329/.458/.543 this season. The OBP was the highest in the majors.
Opponents hit .351 with 13 home runs against Tillman the first time through the order, the third-highest average in the majors.
I’ll repeat that I’d be fine with the Orioles re-signing Tillman for one year, if he’s willing, and counting on a normal winter leading to a healthy and normal spring training. He could be a bargain. You just don’t make his return the big signing of the offseason or pencil him in as the opening day starter.
The Orioles aren’t going to spend on Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish. They’ll have to get creative again to fill out their rotation.