LAKELAND, Fla. - When the first two hitters in what could be the Detroit Tigers’ opening day lineup singled today, Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman was in immediate trouble. But soon he would finish a scoreless first going through the heart of the Detroit batting order.
It was the start of a good day for Tillman, one that produced better radar gun readings on the scoreboard and much better results in the box score.
Tillman went five innings and allowed six hits and one run in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Tigers. He had no strikeouts, but no walks either. He threw 78 pitches, 49 for strikes. In his start last Tuesday, he walked six of the 14 batters he faced in two-plus innings, allowing four runs.
A reporter asked manager Buck Showalter if he was thinking that was the Tillman of old when he escaped that early jam. With two on and none out, he got Miguel Cabrera to line to center. Then Nicholas Castellanos and Victor Martinez flied out.
“I wasn’t really thinking that at that point,” Showalter said. “But that is kind of what you take out of it. They had a shot at him early. When you see some guys just missing fastballs up, four-seamers, it usually means he’s got a little extra today. He threw a lot of pitches, 92, 93 (mph) today. That was good to see. A big jump from last outing.
“It was encouraging. He was good today. Thought his fastball, his command was a lot better. Got a lot of outs in less than four pitches. We were hoping he’d go five and 80, and that’s what he did. Lot more efficient. Better command of the breaking ball and his fastball was a lot better.”
Was it important for Tillman to get such better results today?
“He knows he can. It’s there,” Showalter said. “Just a matter of some things happening for him. Chris has been around enough. It’s not like he’s 35. He’s 30, 31. He’s got a lot of respect for the next level we’re going to go to. He’s got a couple of more outings left before he kicks it off. Good progress today. I know he’ll sleep a little better.”
Meanwhile, one day after the backup catcher competition was reduced by one when Austin Wynns was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, Chance Sisco and Andrew Susac went a combined 4-for-4 at Joker Marchant Stadium. Sisco had a double and triple and is hitting .393 (11-for-28). Susac had two singles and is batting .417 (5-for-12).
“Well, they are only backup catchers in terminology,” said Showalter. “They are an injury away from them being a lot more than that. We have hopes for all the young catchers to be frontline guys at some point.
“(Sisco) had a double and a triple, and I asked him after the triple if he’d be able to catch that inning. He almost made a misread on the ground ball at shortstop. But I liked the sequencing that he and Tilly used today, too.”
The competition between the two catchers to join Caleb Joseph on the opening day roster will likely go down to the wire.
“It has a chance to because we need three catchers to the end, more than anything. You know we don’t have to make a decision yet and we’ve got some people to pick from that we think are capable of doing the job,” the skipper added.
In the O’s sixth inning, Jomar Reyes hit a two-run homer to left. The 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic has spent most of the last two seasons at Single-A Frederick. He got the start at third today when Danny Valencia was scratched due to a sore calf.
“You watch him, if you’re a scout from another team, you come in here, you’re writing something down about him,” Showalter said. “The thing I liked the most today was his calmness defensively. He can really throw and he is really engaged in the defensive side. He is going to be fun to watch this year and see his progress. He is the type of guy that could really pop.”
There were no roster cuts today, the roster holding at 40 players, including 20 pitchers.
The Orioles are 14-10-2 and are 8-2-1 the last 11 games. Nestor Cortes Jr. and Miguel Castro are scheduled to pitch Tuesday night at Ed Smith Stadium at 6:05 p.m. against Tampa Bay. That game will be televised on MASN.