SARASOTA, Fla. - While the Orioles are staying quiet about Chris Tillman today, with no announcement made on their agreement, executive vice president Dan Duquette isn’t necessarily done with the pitching market.
Duquette will continue to check on available starters despite the Orioles guaranteeing Tillman $3 million with a chance to increase the overall value to $10 million, and Andrew Cashner $16 million with a chance to max out at $41 million.
The club would like to insert a left-hander into the rotation with a dearth of candidates in camp. Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. is pretty much it.
Manager Buck Showalter has stated with a touch of humor that he’d rather have a good right-hander than a bad lefty.
Given multiple chances this afternoon to talk about Tillman’s return, Showalter spoke in general terms without offering confirmation. Tillman has worked out at the complex and Showalter has engaged in multiple conversations with him. He knows exactly how Tillman has looked.
“Good. Real good. Better than he did last year at this time,” Showalter said.
“I think he’s got the chance to pitch well for somebody this year. A lot of the challenges he had last year, this time last year, aren’t there. Somebody’s going to reap the benefits. I don’t know anybody in this camp who’s won more than 33 games before last year.”
Does Showalter feel better now about his rotation?
“Sure,’ he replied. “Anytime you add Andrew, you’ve got to feel better about it.”
You see what he’s doing here.
“I was going to feel good about it one way or the other,” Showalter said. “This is the time of year, the positive feeding frenzy, where somebody’s throwing in a cage or somebody’s throwing batting practice, somebody’s throwing on the side and you’ve got to be careful about it and you’re going to go over there and face some people in an intrasquad. Then, you’re going to go over and face some people that are wearing a different jersey and you’re going to face them under the major league microscope.
“We’re going to have some good track record pitchers have a bad outing down here, but I know the Rule 5 guys, all three have been impressive. Including (Anthony) Santander, so that’s four.”
Teammates voiced their approval of Tillman’s return in enthusiastic tones.
“Yeah, excited. Excited for him,” said Kevin Gausman. “I think last year was a struggle for him obviously to get healthy and then mechanically. But I saw him throw a couple days before camp here and he looked really good. Obviously, they probably saw him, too. Yeah, he looked like the old Tilly that I know and we all know. Really good fastball command and he had that angle back and that’s a big thing for him.
“Definitely excited to have him back, and more than anything I think his leadership is going to be big for us.”
“Obviously, I’m excited,” said Dylan Bundy. “He’s a familiar face and he’s kind of been a guy I could lean on the last couple of years and he’s helped me a lot. So definitely glad to have him back for another year.”
“We know what Tillman is capable of,” said reliever Darren O’Day. “I think it’s a great move. Having been through seasons that were compromised by injuries, whether we admit it or not, it takes a while to get back to yourself. If we get a Tillman of previous years, we are going to be a lot stronger than we thought.”
Gausman sensed that Tillman wanted to come back despite working out for other clubs.
“Yeah, yeah, absolutely,” Gausman said. “I think him personally, just coming here he knows what to expect. He’s comfortable here, he knows the way his teammates are going to be toward him.
“Buck came and told me during stretch and I was really excited. When we got Cashner my first thought was, ‘All right, let’s get Tilly locked up and then we’ll be ready to go.’ So yeah, excited to have him.
“Every starter I think he takes pressure off of. He’s a guy when he’s healthy you can bank on him giving you 200 innings and keeping his ERA between a 3 and a 4. And when he’s really good it’s in the low 3s. That in the AL East is always going to be very valuable.”
In less than a week, the Orioles have signed two starters off the free agent market to give them four confirmed members of a rotation in dire need of an upgrade.
“It happened quick, it seems like, and now we almost have a full rotation,” Bundy said, “so just excited to get these days rolling and get into the games so we can start throwing.”
Said O’Day: “It’s really exciting. Andrew is a great addition. Just got to meet him. It’s exciting to add guys. Guess we are accustomed to adding guys this time of year. It’s always good to bring in reinforcements and give yourself a better chance to compete.”
* Catcher Andrew Susac remains hospitalized with a staph infection and Showalter said the next 24-48 hours will determine how long he’s kept there.
“It’s something you’ve got to be real careful with,” Showalter said. “He’s taking a lot of antibiotics intravenously.”
* Showalter talked to some former Tigers employees about outfielder Alex Presley, signed to a minor league deal. Presley worked out with the club today.
“He had a good year last year statistically,” Showalter said. “Another player that could make our club. Left-handed hitter, interesting guy other than being from Ole Miss. Of course, he’s from Louisiana, so that doesn’t count.
“I’ve got a pretty good feel for him. I’ll try to go in with an open mind about it.”
Presley will compete for a job this spring with the Orioles needing a left-handed bat.
“It’s one of those things where things looked like they matched up well with the opportunity,” he said. “It’s been a long offseason for a lot of people. Felt like this was the opportunity that was going to be the best and just went with it.
“We haven’t really talked about (his role). We’ve been getting physicals and getting out on the field, so we haven’t really had a whole lot of time to discuss. I know a left-handed bat is something that’s needed and I think I can provide that.”
Presley had a career year in 71 games with the Tigers last summer, batting .314/.354/.416.
“I think I got more time to play consistently,” he said. “I was just more consistent in general with my approach and stuff like that. I was able to get in a groove and continue throughout the season. “
Presley will earn $1.1 million if he makes the club, and his contract includes an opt-out next month.
“I know what I’ve been told,” Showalter said. “I want to see what I think.”
* Showalter and Chris Davis had a long conversation in camp covering a variety of topics, including the first baseman’s work in the offseason and twin daughters born last month.
“I knew there was going to be a time for it. This year was kind of earlier than later. His idea as much as mine,” Showalter said.
“Wanted to know what he was thinking, where he was coming from. I know Scott (Coolbaugh) and him spent a lot of time ... he’s had a busy offseason. You can imagine what a change of atmosphere it is getting down here. I’m not saying it’s all good, but I know he’s been excited about ... there’s no way to say this with babies. It’s been good and challenging. Fortunately for him and his wife (Jill), they can afford a nanny. But I think he’s in a good place right now.”
Davis wants to regain his aggressive approach at the plate. Too many called strikes, too many third strikes with the bat on his shoulder.
“But that doesn’t mean he’s going up there and swinging at anything that moves,” Showalter said.
“I think Chris as much as any of our players, he’s such a respectful guy to the umpires. Going back through it, because he doesn’t argue a whole lot, I don’t think he gets the benefit of the doubt much. I really don’t. He has a lot of pitches called on him just because he strikes out a lot. I think sometimes that works against him. It’s something I’d like to see change. There aren’t many borderline pitches he doesn’t get called strikes on him. As much if not the most of any of our guys.”