SARASOTA, Fla. - Chris Tillman is toeing more than the pitching rubber. There’s also a fine line beneath his spikes.
Use spring training to work on various things, but also understand the importance of achieving results. Throw pitches in sequences that contradict your approach in the regular season, but also record outs and lower your ERA.
It’s the type of balancing act that can make a pitcher splatter from the fall.
Tillman grasps the importance of today’s start against the Tigers in Lakeland, how it can allow him to sharpen areas of his game before opening day and ease the management and fan angst that may have arisen from his debut.
Allowed to face 14 batters in his first Grapefruit League start, Tillman issued six walks and the Twins scored four runs off him. They also collected three hits and he managed only 27 strikes among his 62 pitches.
The outing, which included a fastball in the 87-90 mph range, didn’t appear to stick to the spring narrative that Tillman was much farther along than a year ago. And the scrutiny intensifies today.
“I mean, it’s important, but it’s still spring training,” he said. “I think, if you’re going to work on something, now’s the time to do it. There’s no better time than now. And I think that goes for everybody, whether you’re a hitter, position player or a pitcher.
“I think it’s important if you feel like working on something, then getting it in now as opposed to later when the lights do come on. But I think at the same time you want to see results. And by results, I’m not talking six walks.”
Tillman allows himself a chuckle.
“I think it’s more so the soft contact, the outs, the quick at-bats,” he said.
The challenge is earning the trifecta while still straying from the regular season script. A little experimentation, like going so heavy with his two-seam fastball against the Twins, but also breezing through the order.
“It can be tough, especially as a younger guy, I feel like,” he said. “In spring, you have to be a tough critic of yourself. I think that’s part of it. But it can be tough, but I don’t look at it as tough. If the goal of the day is to work on fastballs away and you execute fastballs away and you’re giving up hits, I feel like that’s a positive. But at this point in camp I feel like, especially for pitchers, getting outs is more important than anything.”
Tillman vowed after his first Grapefruit League start to throw fewer two-seamers, which caused him to miss low. He’s more comfortable working up in the zone.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think it all comes off what you’re seeing as far as swings-wise, but I don’t know why I would. It all depends.”
The Twins weren’t inclined to swing at much that Tillman had to offer. Can’t square up a guy while trotting to first base. But the balls that were put in play didn’t have much behind them.
If Tillman was seeking encouragement, this is where he found it.
“It was a lot of soft contact. At the end of the day, that’s kind of how I was taught to judge my starts from older guys when I first got here was contact,” Tillman said.
“In that game, I think there was one hard-hit ball. I think it was (Miguel) Sanó when he hit that ball to left field. But other than that, the contact was about where you want it, but you just need more of it as opposed to giving them that free base. I’d rather them hit the ball hard somewhere than walk a guy.”
Tillman had a side session between starts that he said “went really well.”
“I think it went about as well as the other ones,” he said. “Even that last start, I sat down and watched it with three or four people and it was close. It was right there. I know six walks isn’t close, but the pitches were.”
Whatever happens to Tillman today, at least he’ll be in a role more familiar to him than bat boy. It may require less effort.
“It sucked,” said Tillman, who retrieved bats and brought baseballs and water to the plate umpire. “Those guys work way harder than I ever thought they did.”
Tillman joked he agreed to do it “under protest.”
“I was just a donator. I don’t know how I got sucked into that deal, but it’s part of it,” he said.
“When I was sitting there looking at the teams, everybody had like two to four guys per team and (Gausman) was all by himself. So I asked if I could just donate and if we did lose if I had to do it and they said, ‘No, no, you don’t have to do it.’ Well, guess what? We came in last and I had to do it.”