Among the many factors that contributed to a last-place finish, the first losing season for the Orioles since 2011, one of the most prominent ties together right-hander Chris Tillman and lefty Zach Britton.
The No. 1 starter and closer as broken bookends.
The Orioles weren’t prepared for Tillman to win one game, in his first start delayed until May 7 due to a shoulder injury, and register career highs with a 7.84 ERA, a 1.892 WHIP and 12.1 hits per nine innings. For Tillman to lose his spot in the rotation and make his first five relief appearances in the majors.
They weren’t prepared for Britton to go on the disabled list twice with a strained left forearm, appear in only 38 games and record 15 saves. For his ERA to climb from 0.54 in 2016 to 2.89 and his WHIP from 0.836 to 1.527.
Britton is under team control for one more season. Tillman is a free agent with the possibility of staying in Baltimore on a one-year deal.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette won’t discuss specific players and he dodged a question Thursday night pertaining to Tillman, who’s reportedly drawn interest from the Tigers.
MLBTradeRumors.com predicted that the Tigers would sign Tillman to a $10 million contract.
“He’s a free agent and under the rules we’re not supposed to talk about any of the free agents,” Duquette said on 105.7 The Fan.
“I know he was one of our players and he did a great job for five years, but it’s really not kosher for me to talk about where he fits in. I think those decisions, we’ll sift our way through the pitchers. Certainly, he did a great job for us for five years. I’m not sure we have identified exactly what the solution is to getting him back to form that he was previously. That’s something that we worked on all year and we’re still taking a look at it.”
Tillman’s streak of opening day starts ended at three as he began the season on the disabled list. He fought a losing battle with his mechanics, the few instances when he began to feel right proving to be a tease.
With Dylan Bundy the only starter to provide any semblance of consistency, the rotation posted a 5.70 ERA that ranked as the worst in franchise history.
“We were counting on Chris Tillman giving us quality innings,” Duquette said. “He didn’t pitch anywhere near as he pitched for us for five years straight. He was one of the top pitchers in the league and he’s a real weapon against the Yankees. He had five really strong years for us and Chris didn’t have that kind of year. He didn’t do what we had hoped he was going to do.
“You need a good stopper to stop the losing streaks and Chris Tillman was that pitcher for us for a long time.”
Perhaps he will be again. There’s room for him if the Orioles truly believe that they can get him right, that a normal winter and spring training will solve the issue.
Tillman isn’t worried about rebuilding his value in the American League East and at Camden Yards, which separates him from some other pitchers on the market. Hitters rush to the Orioles. Pitchers tend to treat them like an annoying relative on the holidays.
Duquette will continue his offseason shopping this month at the Winter Meetings. He needs starting pitchers more than anything else. Maybe we’ll find out whether Tillman is on the list.