Chris Tillman has impressed the Orioles in many ways. With his talent, with his poise and with the ability he has at just 21 years of age.
Tonight, the young right-hander will make his Major League debut when the O’s host Kansas City at 7:05 p.m.
In spring training, he impressed O’s Minor League Pitching Coordinater, Dave Schmidt. Tillman looked to improve one aspect of his game without any suggestions from the coaches.
He worked to perfect his changeup.
“He made a big jump with it this year in spring training. He had starts where he made a conscious effort to throw only fastball-changeup. He didn’t throw his curve at all. He learned how to throw the pitch and when to throw it and made a big jump forward with it in spring.
“It was his decision alone to just go with fastball-changeup in games. We thought that was a pretty mature outlook to take. He could have said ‘I’ve been very good so far, why would I want to change.’ But he knew he would need this pitch in the big leagues.
“He’s found that in throwing the change enough it can keep the hitters off the speed of his fastball and makes the fastball more effective. When you get the hitters in between speeds that’s a great place for the pitcher.
“His changeup has become a legitimate pitch for him. He feels real comfortable throwing it now in almost any count. About the mid point in Double-A last year he began throwing it more and made progress with the change last year as well.”
Schmidt said the improvement of that pitch is one big reason Tillman is putting up even better numbers this year in Triple-A than he did last season at Double-A Bowie.
Tillman is 8-6, 2.70 in 18 starts with Norfolk this year. He has allowed 2ER or less 13 times and has pitched to an ERA of 1.88 in four July starts.
In 96 2/3 innings, he has allowed 85 hits with 26 walks, 99 strikeouts and a .232 average against.
Tillman’s fastball and curve are both rated by scouts as above average major league pitches already.
“He has some late life to his fastball. Sometimes it will rise or have some late life in the zone. He’s worked hard to pitch down more consistently with it this year also. His fastball is above average velocity-wise.
“His curve has very good spin and got a little tighter this year. In spring it seemed to have a little more depth at the end. It’s a quality curve that can be effective vs. both left and right-handed hitters.
Tillman, who turned 21 in April, came to the O’s in the February 8, 2008 trade of Erik Bedard to Seattle. The Mariners drafted him in round two of 2006.
In two seasons with the O’s, at Bowie and Norfolk, he is a combined 19-10, 2.98 in 46 starts. In 232 innings he has walked 91 and fanned 253.
“He’s outstanding to work with,” Schmidt added. “He’s a confident, but not arrogant kid. Very willing to accept suggestions and instruction and willing to put it into use. He’s just a good, solid guy.
“He’s going to be a guy to help the Orioles for years.”
Clubhouse Audio: Matt Wieters give a scouting report on Chris Tillman
O’s skipper Dave Trembley said the timing was right to get Tillman now.
“I think it’s the normal part of his progression. We started him in Double-A, then moved to Triple-A and the reports that we got on him are that he’s ready,” Trembley said.
“His changeup has gotten better. He’s had to learn how to use his fastball inside more effectively. He’s got a good curveball. The best thing about him is they say he doesn’t get rattled. I think we’ve been patient with him and let him proceed accordingly. Everybody says that he’s now ready.”
Trembley said he talked on the phone with Tillman on Tuesday and told the youngster that he wants the veteran Gregg Zaun to catch his first game.
“I think it gives everybody a shot in the arm. It really puts everything in perspective here because you can get bogged down in the negative. This is a very positive thing and also I think it solidifies and gives credence to Andy MacPhail. He’s doing what he said he was going to do. We’re going to be patient, we’re going to wait until these guys are ready and then when they are we’re going to bring them,” the skipper added.