Chris Tillman comes off the disabled list tonight to make his first start of the season after going 9-3 with an ERA of 2.93 in 15 starts last year. He went 3-1 with an ERA of 1.80 over his last six starts.
The season was a huge success for him and fans wondered if he had finally turned a corner and had gone from prospect to consistently dependable starting pitcher.
In 36 starts from 2009-11, Tillman won just seven games. He won nine last year in just 15 starts.
Here is another impressive stat for him. From last July 4, when he was recalled from the minors, through the end of the regular season, he ranked fourth in the AL in WHIP behind only James Shields, David Price and CC Sabathia.
There was so much talk last year that Tillman's velocity increase - from 89.3 mph in 2011 to 92.2 mph in 2012 - was the biggest factor in his good season.
Does Buck Showalter feel the velocity increase was the key for Tillman?
"I think it was the consistency of the velocity," Showalter said. "He'd say, 'I feel great,' (in the past) and start out throwing 88, 89 mph and all a sudden two innings later, he'd throw 93. He'd sit there and go, 'I don't get it.'
"But he made a little adjustment in his delivery, most of it on his own. He tried to do some things that Rick (Adair) had been talking to him about in spring training. Most of the adjustments he made on his own down in Norfolk, he and Griff (Tides pitching coach Mike Griffin). He kind of ran with it. He did some things on the pitching rubber. (Director of pitching development Rick Peterson) obviously did some things with him, too."
In this interview yesterday, Tillman said the velocity was just one element of his 2012 season.
"It is one of many," Tillman said. "Does it help? Yeah, but there are more important things out there. Being able to throw my off-speed pitches for strikes is more important. You have to be an all around pitcher."
Showalter said as much today.
"He's gotten to where he can throw his changeup behind in the count. Like I say all the time what Orel Hershiser said, pitchers need command of one pitch to compete, two to win and three to dominate.
"When he has all three going like he had in that game at Seattle (when he gave up just two hits over 8 1/3 innings on July 4), I can sit back and eat sunflower seeds. He's a tough young man and he ain't scared. He's hard on himself. He's competitive."