A closer look at Chris Tillman’s season

Here is my take on Orioles’ right-hander Chris Tillman, who is 2-3 with an ERA of 6.15 over seven starts and faces Boston tonight.

He has been terrible, but in just two starts. He has pitched pretty well in five of his seven outings this year and that gets lost in the debate when fans start talking about Tillman.

Tillman gave up 14 of his 23 runs this year in two starts against New York and Kansas City. Did you realize his record is 2-1 and ERA is 2.86 in his five other starts? And, by the way, the Orioles are 4-1 in those five starts.

Tillman against New York/KansasCity:   14 ER     5 1/3 IP   23.64 ERA
Tillman's other five starts:                            9 ER    28 1/3 IP     2.86 ERA

In the two starts where he gave up all those runs, those teams hit .484 off Tillman. His batting average against in the other five starts is .231.

Some fans and reporters have speculated at times this year that Tillman could be dealing with an injury.

Tillman’s fastball velocity, ranging from 89-92 mph, is not what it once was in the minor leagues, according to some scouts, and that further has fueled the injury talk.

ESPN’s Keith Law is now speculating that Tillman may not be sound. He was a guest recently on the Scott Garceau Show on 105.7 FM The Fan in Baltimore.

“Tillman is not right,” Law told Garceau and co-host Jeremy Conn on their afternoon drive show. “This is just not the guy I saw coming up the though the minors. It’s not the guy they traded for. He cannot be right physically.

“The fastball is gone, the velocity is gone and very few guys can pitch at that velocity, unless you have plus command and he doesn’t.

“I’m disappointed, I held out hope as long as I could on Tillman. But the fact the velocity is not coming back - he’s throwing batting practice out there. And it’s not helping him or the organization. They have to figure out what is wrong with the guy and probably get him out of the big league rotation while they try to figure it out.

“I hope it is not serious. I hope it’s not a major shoulder problem for example, but you always worry about that when you see a guy missing that much velocity.”

Law was asked if Tillman’s struggles could be about inconsistent pitching mechanics and not an injury of some sort.

“It is unlikely,” Law said. “I will never say never, because each pitcher is different. Without letting me see the player live or good quality footage of his mechanics from the side, if you told me a pitcher had lost four miles per hour on his average fastball, and is no longer topping out where he had the year before, the first thing I would guess, truly being a guess, would be shoulder.

“That is typically where velocity loss comes from. Your rule of thumb is, if a guy loses command or control, check the elbow. If a guy loses significant velocity, check the shoulder. And that can be anything from just soreness or a strain to something more serious that requires a visit to Dr. (James) Andrews.”

It should be pointed out that Law appeared on the radio show before Tillman gave up just one run last week against Seattle.

To me, what is hurting is not Tillman, but his ERA, which remains over six. But, as I pointed out, he has been decent in the majority of his starts. He’s just been struggling to find consistency at the major league level. I don’t see him pitching batting practice out there at all, not in five of his seven appearances certainly.

Tonight Tillman faces a tough test: the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Maybe a good outing there would quiet some of his critics. On the other hand, a poor game might just lead to further fan and media speculation about Tillman, his velocity and his future in the Orioles’ rotation.

Coming tonight: If you were planning to watch tonight’s Orioles-Red Sox game at Hightopps in Timonium don’t let the fact I will be there deter you from coming out. Yes, that is self-deprecating humor. I actually hope you do show up and we will have fun. No really, we will. For more info on tonight, click here.

While I am plugging my Monday night schedule, tune and call in tonight when I host “Baltimore Baseball Tonight” postgame from 10 p.m. to midnight on 105.7 FM the Fan in Baltimore. I host the show each weeknight and we get a lot of good O’s calls, but I’d love to hear more from readers of the blog. Tune in and grab a phone!

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