Twenty-two starts without a win. Chris Tillman carried the burden like a refrigerator strapped to his back. The shoulder injury, the demotion to the bullpen, the trust placed in him by an organization that was willing to give him a major league deal in free agency.
Tillman escaped a jam in the first inning, didn’t allow a hit until the fifth and shut out the Tigers through the seventh. No more arguing about his placement in the rotation. He’s going to stay and keep getting the ball.
Manny Machado and Pedro Álvarez hit solo home runs as the only baserunners against Tigers starter Mike Fiers through five innings, Álvarez added a two-run shot off Johnny Barbato in the seventh and the Orioles ended a five-game losing streak with a 6-0 victory before an announced crowd of 14,223 at Camden Yards.
Álvarez has 14 career multi-homer games, the most recent before tonight coming on Aug. 5, 2016 against the White Sox. El Toro is going to rip Machado’s imaginary cape.
José Iglesias doubled off Tillman with one out in the fifth, but Tillman retired Dixon Machado on a ground ball and struck out Leonys Martin. Tillman wiggled out of a jam in the first after hitting Jeimer Candelario with one out and walking Miguel Cabrera.
Tillman allowed just the one hit over seven scoreless innings, with two walks, five strikeouts and the hit batter. He threw 98 pitches, 59 for strikes. Tonight marked the first time Tillman completed seven innings since Aug. 11, 2016 in Oakland.
The offense busted out last night and returned to sluggish mode against Fiers, a pitcher the Orioles pursued over the winter. Machado hit his team-leading ninth home run with two outs in the first, the ball traveling 413 feet to center field, and Álvarez offered up a 416-foot shot to right-center with two outs in the fifth.
Caleb Joseph led off the sixth with a double, making him 6-for-45, and he scored on Jace Peterson’s flukish double on a ball up the middle that caromed off the bag and bounced into right field. Machado was walked intentionally, Peterson stole third base again against the shift and Chris Davis struck out for the second time to keep the lead at 3-0.
Givens began to warm as Tillman returned for the top of the seventh with his pitch count at 88. He induced three ground balls in 10 pitches and fans behind the dugout rose to applaud him.
Tillman also retired the side in order in the sixth, striking out Candelario on a slider after fanning Martin on an 88 mph fastball to end the fifth. His ERA dropped tonight from 9.87 to 7.03, and his record against the Tigers improved to 7-1 with a 2.79 ERA in 12 starts.
Tillman kept mixing his pitches - the fastball, the slider, the curveball. His velocity isn’t back to pre-2017 measures, but he kept the Tigers off-balance.
Peterson had a two-hit night, and his leadoff single in the eighth was followed by a Barbato wild pitch and Machado RBI single into right field. Machado was knocked to the dirt earlier by a slider near his head.
He got the last word.
With a 6-0 lead, the Orioles scored their most runs since a 13-8 loss in Detroit on April 19.
Bleier retired the Tigers in order in the eighth on three ground balls to lower his ERA to 0.54 in 16 2/3 innings. Givens got the ninth and allowed an infield hit to Nick Castellanos with two outs while appearing on back-to-back nights, and the Orioles rediscovered the win column.
It took 2 hours, 26 minutes to complete. It felt like a year passed since the last win.
Manager Buck Showalter on what was different about Tillman: “It was fun to watch, for his sake and ... It was one outing. I thought he was close last outing. He pitched six innings last time out. Secondary stuff was better. Got the curveball going. He had that as a weapon. It was tough because I’m sitting there saying, OK, want to win the game. Obviously, that’s No. 1. You want Chris, something positive, because we all know what it could mean to us if Chris could get going like Chris is capable. It could make what I think is going to be a good rotation into a really good one. But he didn’t give me any opportunity. He gave up one hit.
“It was tempting to let him pitch the next inning, but he was solid. That was fun to watch. Everybody’s been through some tough times in this game, but especially the way he internalized it so much, you know he wants to contribute more importantly. It’s like a guy with power who can’t get to it. It’s like you’ve got the skills that he knows he’s capable of having and he’s just not able to execute it. I thought when he got through the first inning. You see a lot of weak contact and things when Chris Tillman is having a good outing.”
Showalter on whether this could be big mentally for Tillman: “Yeah, potentially it is. That’s a hurdle you’ve got to get over. But the next team he’s going to pitch against couldn’t care less. They’re not here for all the history and things that we have. But it’s still about execution of pitches and he did that today. I thought his presentation was really good.”
Showalter again on differences in Tillman: “Chris and I talked before his last outing. We talk a lot. You’re around these guys as much as we’ve been around each other, you kind of know there are some things that regardless of what pure stuff he’s featuring, there are some other parts of him that have always been there in every outing. I can’t really talk about it without being colorful, so to speak, if that’s the word. He had that tonight. I thought he had it for the most part last outing, so regardless if you’re throwing 94, 95 (mph), that other part cannot not be there. That’s a trait he’s always brought.”
Showalter on Tillman missing bats: “Yeah, some swing and misses and the strikeouts. He had a hit by pitch. He hits a guy on the foot on a ball he’s trying to go away with, just jerks it. He didn’t let things snowball. He said, ‘OK, that happened.’ I thought the first inning, getting out of that inning, Zach (Britton) and I were talking in the dugout, if he gets one more inning under his belt he’s going to have a really good outing.”
Showalter on big strikeout of Martin in fifth: “High fastball to expand the zone. A guy that has been swinging the bat real well. He’s been hot for them. I thought that was key to, OK, this has got a chance to be a good outing. He kept his pitch count down.”
Showalter on whether this was Tillman of old: “No, but it may be down the road. He feels good physically. Chris has always had a good feel for pitching, adding and subtracting and different types of pitches. I thought Caleb was outstanding tonight. The first inning or two, that was pretty impressive. They were on the same page. That was a good tempo to his outing, too.”
Showalter on Joseph contributing and getting breaks: “Tonight was a good example. He hits a ball down the line that before is either called foul or barely foul. The ball hits the bag and goes into right field. Those are the plays that have been going the other way against us. Ball hits the top of the wall and goes over, our ball hits the top of the wall and comes in. I can give you about 10 other ones like that. But you can’t let that creep in. So to see all that. Keep talking about that stuff working in our favor tonight. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. But we got some things that kind of went our way tonight.”
Showalter on Álvarez: “Pete has been so close on some balls. He’s such a good teammate, smart guy. Everybody pulls for Pete because he’s done it the right way. This guy has been on the other side of this and he’s grinder like heck to get back here and get an opportunity. People are really pulling for him. And when he hits a couple home runs like that, I think everybody kind of smiles inside.”
Tillman on outing: “I knew what I had to do to get back. It was just hard getting there. I was putting a lot of the work in. I had an extra bullpen this time. I think it’s starting to pay off.
“I felt real close after the last start. I felt my fastball command in my last start was really good. This start it was not as good, but the off-speed stuff was better. I was able to mix my pitches. Caleb was right on top of it.”