FORT MYERS, Fla. - Jorge Polanco had just let go of his bat after drawing the Twins’ latest walk, this one with the bases loaded, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter was out of the dugout and signaling to his bullpen.
Chris Tillman’s first Grapefruit League start after a couple of simulated games ended with no outs in the third inning and the bases still full. Tillman never could find the plate with any consistency and was done following his sixth walk among 14 batters faced.
Left-hander Donnie Hart let all three inherited runners score on his own bases-loaded walk, Ryan LaMarre’s sacrifice fly and Zach Granite’s bunt single. Tillman was charged with four runs after the Twins batted around in the third.
Tillman allowed three hits, including Joe Mauer’s infield single to open the third. Tillman slipped coming off the mound and was late to the bag as Danny Valencia’s throw sailed over his head.
Control was an issue throughout Tillman’s outing. He threw only 27 of his 62 pitches for strikes and got first-pitch strikes on only three batters. He lost Polanco on four pitches to force in a run and hasten his exit.
The velocity figures to improve as Tillman logs more innings this spring. His fastball was mostly in the 87-89 mph range.
Tillman walked two of the first three batters he faced and needed a dazzling 4-6-3 double play to avoid serious trouble. Second baseman Engelb Vielma made a sliding backhanded stop of Mauer’s smash and flipped the ball to Manny Machado with his glove.
Logan Morrison flied to left field to strand Miguel Sanó after a two-out walk.
The Twins loaded the bases in the second on a single and two walks, but Tim Beckham made a backhanded stop of Brian Dozier’s ground ball along the line and threw him out.
Sanó followed Mauer’s infield hit in the third with a double into the left field corner. Morrison walked, Polanco walked and Showalter made the change.
Hart struck out two batters in the inning, but his walk and the bunt single complicated Tillman’s day.
Asked about Tillman before the game, Showalter said the right-hander was “ready to pitch.”
“He’s pitched a lot here,” Showalter said. “Regardless of what happens today, he’s better than where he was (last year) by a big margin. I think he’s looking forward to just seeing if everything he’s feeling and thinking and everything that kind comes into play as far as feeling and not so much the results, but ...
“He may have signed the contract late, but he was light years ahead of where he was last year by a large margin. When he started and what he was able to do.”
Unable to have a proper offseason or spring training due to an issue with his right shoulder, Tillman never found his rhythm and went 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA and 1.892 WHIP in 93 innings.
“As much as any pitcher we have, he’s a creature of routine and I think we understand that managing and coaching pitchers through the years,” Showalter said. “You need to understand their routine.
“With Chris, it was like he was trying to stop a snowball all year. You kept waiting for him to ... Chris, like a lot of starting pitchers, may not be real crisp early on, but he gets through the first inning or so and then all of a sudden he settles in and next thing you know you look out there and it’s the sixth, seventh, eighth inning. And that never really got going for him last year. He couldn’t make that pitch and command the things that he needs to.”
It was more of the same today for Tillman, who returned to the Orioles on a one-year deal that guarantees $3 million and can earn him an additional $7 million in incentives and bonuses. He’s expected to make his regular season debut on April 2 in Houston, though Showalter hasn’t confirmed the order of his rotation.
Maybe he’s waiting to make certain that no one else shows up.
Meanwhile, Lance Lynn gave the Orioles a glimpse at what they’re missing with three scoreless and hitless innings. He struck out five of 10 batters, including Beckham and Trey Mancini to start the game.
The Orioles were involved in negotiations with Lynn’s agent up until the right-hander agreed to terms with the Twins on a one-year contract that guarantees $12 million. They’ve also maintained contact with Alex Cobb’s representative.
Austin Wynns drew a one-out walk in the third to give the Orioles their only baserunner. Vielma grounded into a force and Beckham struck out for the second time.
Pedro Álvarez’s single in the fourth off Fernando Rodney scored Machado, who doubled with one out, and cut the lead to 4-1.
Update: Wynns hit a two-run homer off Trevor Hildenberger in the fifth inning to reduce the lead to 4-3.
Update II: Mancini reached on a two-out error and scored on Machado’s single to tie the game in the fifth.
Update III: Left-hander Josh Edgin gave up a run in the bottom of the fifth inning and the Orioles are down 5-4.
Tillman talked about today’s start. Here’s a sampling:
On what he was fighting: “I didn’t really feel like I was fighting anything. I had a lot of misses down below the zone. It wasn’t in and out or arm side or glove side. It was north and south, which you’d think would be an easy adjustment, but kept missing down, which, when it’s down they’re going to take more as opposed to when it’s elevated. I felt like there were a lot of guys who were waiting to see the ball up and when they didn’t, more times than not took it.”
On difference today and sim games: “Nothing with how I felt. I felt good. I used my two-seam a lot more today and I think that’s part of the reason why I kept missing down, kind of taking it out of the zone below. But my four-seam was better. I mean, it was about like it was in the sim game. I was able to get it in and out for strikes.”
More on outing: “I think for me, they really barreled one ball. They didn’t beat me, I beat myself by missing. It was the same miss. I think make an adjustment and get the ball more elevated, which is opposite of what you normally want. I think mix in a few more four-seams. I’m more of a four-seam guy anyway. I don’t know what I’m doing throwing that many two-seamers.”
On wanting better results: “Oh yeah. Every time I go out I want to do good, especially this late in spring. I know it’s my first one and everyone says, ‘I’m out there working on stuff,’ but that’s the problem with starting this late in spring. You’ve got to go out and try to win. When they did swing, it was a lot of soft contact, which is, I guess, the positive I’m going to take away from this. A lot of soft contact. But I’ve just got to get them to do that more instead of just taking at the bottom of the zone, which isn’t me.”
On whether it feels like normal spring: “It feels much better routine-wise. It definitely does. After the last sim game, we got on a five-day. That’s all starters, not just me. I think starting to get in that feel where we’re getting things going. You have your routine as opposed to there’s a schedule for 25 guys doing one thing one day and the rest doing it the next day. We’re starting to get in that routine. It’s that time of year.”
Update IV: Anthony Santander hit a two-run homer to left field off Twins southpaw Taylor Rogers in the seventh inning to give the Orioles a 6-5 lead. Santander has three home runs this spring.
Update V: Ruben Tejada’s RBI single in the eighth expanded the lead to 7-5.
Update VI: James Teague stranded a runner after a one-out double in the ninth to get the save. The Orioles beat the Twins 7-5 to improve to 11-8-1 in Grapefruit League play.