Tillman keeping his focus off free agency

Orioles manager Buck Showalter receives another chance to tweak his rotation as his club enjoys part of its off-day before flying to Boston for a weekend series against the first-place Red Sox.

Getting out of Fenway Park without any controversies would be a bonus. Is it in the realm of possibility?

Ear plugs might not be a bad idea. And please, no Red Sox quips. You’re just asking for trouble.

Showalter is firmly committed to providing rest whenever he’s able to do it, especially for Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman as the season inches toward September. He’s expected to name Chris Tillman as Sunday’s starter in the series finale - it got lost in yesterday’s 12-inning shuffle - which enables him to push back others in the rotation.

chris-tillman-throw-gray.jpgTillman is trying to salvage his season while also assisting in the push toward a playoff berth. (He better have a gym membership.) He’s in a team-first mindset despite pending free agency.

A season-opening stint on the disabled list was followed by a bullpen assignment, his first in the majors, that lasted for two appearances. Tillman has one win in eight decisions, coming in his May 3 debut against the White Sox, and is carrying a 7.75 ERA and 1.991 WHIP in 18 games over 74 1/3 innings.

A big multi-year deal was anticipated for Tillman this winter after he avoided arbitration by accepting a $10.5 million offer. He figured to be bombarded almost daily with inquiries about in-season negotiations. But the focus has been fixed on his right shoulder, which began to bother him last August, and a startling regression in production.

An uncertain future and the pressure that comes with it played games with Bud Norris’ mind, as he admitted after the Orioles released him on Aug. 8, 2015. It weighed heavily on him. But Tillman insisted this week that he isn’t consumed with thoughts about his next contract and how the season is impacting it.

“I haven’t really thought about it, to tell you the truth,” he said. “Everyone knows it is what it is. It’s out there, but I’ve got bigger things to focus on and that’s pitching better and trying to help this team get to where we want to be.

“That’s our main goal all the way throughout. If you’re not thinking about that, you’re cheating yourself. You’re not giving your 100 percent.”

The Orioles were poised to jump back into negotiations after meeting with Tillman’s representatives at the winter meetings, placing talks on the back burner while focusing on other clients, but vowing to reopen them at a later date. If there has been contact of any substance, Tillman said he’s unaware of it.

“I haven’t heard anything,” he said.

“I think they’d like to see me pitch better and prove that it’s still there. I mean, I know it’s there. Everyone here knows it’s still there. It’s just, you’ve got to prove it. You’ve got to string a couple of good starts together and hopefully get going again as a group and get to where we want to get.”

Back to the team, back to the pursuit of the second wild card. It may seem impossible to comprehend how a pitcher can block out the rest, but Tillman appears to be unfazed by his situation. He’s certainly carrying himself in the same manner that we’ve become accustomed to over the years.

Approached at his locker on Monday, Tillman said he didn’t know when he’d make his next appearance. The staff was in wait-and-see mode early in the week.

“Even talking with these guys, there’s so much to play with now,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything. I’m sure when they know, I’ll know, but I haven’t heard anything.”

Showalter hinted the following day that Tillman could pitch on Sunday and he’s expected to stick with the plan.

Tillman was charged with four runs and walked six batters in 5 1/3 innings in Sunday’s 5-4 loss to the Angels. He noted how he made progress, whatever amount, and lamented the home run surrendered to Adrelton Simmons in the sixth inning.

“That whole game changed on one pitch, as opposed to that guy hitting the pitch and popping it up or a ground ball or swinging and missing,” Tillman said. “We’re talking about six walks as opposed to six innings and two runs. It all changed on one swing, really.

“Obviously, the six walks are bad. I would be upset with that even if it was six innings and no runs. But the whole tone of it changed because of that swing. Talking with these guys, they’re telling me, ‘Nice job, nice job.’ It’s like, I had six walks. No one really realized it until someone hit that home run.

“I felt pretty good about it. It’s still a work in progress. Looking at it, I feel like there’s still tons of room for improvement mechanically. That’s my goal is to keep getting better. It was much better than it was before I went out to the bullpen. I feel like those few outings I had in the bullpen helped a lot. I actually feel like those were a little better than what this start was mechanically. So, I’d like to get comfortable with it to where I’m more consistent.”

Each failed start led to more speculation that Tillman was pitching hurt, but he said his shoulder is fine.

“Yeah, it felt good. I felt real good,” he said.

“I feel like it’s more of a mechanical thing. Not so much mechanical, but just being able to be consistent with the new stuff. I’m comfortable with it. It’s just I’ve got to be able to repeat it.”

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