Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman had to wait until the season’s 30th game to make his first start. And then he threw seven pitches out of the strike zone and walked the first two White Sox batters this afternoon. Moments into his season debut he was in trouble. But he said he knew what to do at that point.
“For me, the first seven pitches were all the same mistake,” he said. “It was kind of an easy adjustment. Because I wasn’t all over the place, I just kept making the same mistake over and over and leaving the ball armside. Just a small, minor adjustment to get back to making quality pitches.”
He needed to and he did. When Manny Machado’s throw to second on a slow roller toward third was late, Chicago loaded the bases with one out. But a line out and a pop out by Todd Frazier and Cody Asche, respectively, followed and Chicago went 0-for-4 in the inning with runners in scoring position.
Tillman was finally back, and he put up a zero the hard way. Then he put up four more, for a total of five scoreless innings on three hits, three walks and four strikeouts, as the Orioles beat Chicago 4-0 for a three-game sweep. He threw 93 pitches and has an ERA of 0.00, after his ERA was 7.16 in four minor league rehab starts. His long road back from shoulder discomfort - one that included a platelet-rich plasma injection in December and a cortisone shot in March - ended with a win for him and the Orioles today.
“It’s been long. I want to tip my hat to (athletic trainers) Richie (Bancells) and Brian (Ebel). They did a great job. Probably sick and tired of me being in there (the trainers’ room). But that’s part of it. You have to spend your time in there. They did a heckuva job, and it feels good to go out there and show them I can finally pitch again.”
Tillman had just one 1-2-3 inning, his fifth and last. He threw just 35 fastballs today, and a combination of 58 curves, sliders and changeups.
“It felt good. Physically felt good. Got better as the game went. Felt good to be back out there with the guys. First inning there felt like I’d never thrown a pitch in the big leagues before. That is normal, I think. I think that first inning is always my tough one. When I got through that and made some good pitches to get out of it, I felt pretty good with where we were at.”
Tillman said he felt he cleared another hurdle today, and that he was not being overly cautious or thinking about his shoulder discomfort.
“I don’t think I’m really tiptoeing (being too cautious). I felt pretty good today. If my off-speed wasn’t so good, I probably would have thrown more fastballs. Everyone was asking why I threw so much off-speed, but I felt really good with that and decided to go with it until they proved I probably shouldn’t go with it anymore.
“I think that every start the rest of the way is going to be a hurdle. That’s the way I’ve always kind of looked at it. On your way back, (getting past) those hurdles is pretty important. You want to see the progress, and sometimes you get lost in looking for results.”
But Tillman got results today, and in addition to thanking the training staff, he had props for catcher Francisco Peña.
“He did a really good job. Good game-caller and receiving. All around real solid,” Tillman said.
Peña left the game through strange circumstances before the top of the eighth. He felt some cramping in his right thumb and other areas. He said it’s happened before, and even though he left the game, he expects to be ready tomorrow.
“Just cramping up,” Peña said. “My calf was cramping up and my forearm. I made that throw to second base and my thumb started cramping up. Just keep hydrating and should be ready to go tomorrow. It happened to me before with the Royals in Triple-A. Thankfully, everything is good.”
After an eventful road trip with a lot of emotion and controversy almost every night in Boston, Joey Rickard said it was big to return home and have such a good series.
“Definitely. It was a long week last week, but it’s baseball. We came out and did what we had to do. Get on a good roll. But we have to keep going forward. We knew we were facing a good arm (in José Quintana). Tip my hat to Tillman and our bullpen to get that job done. Shutouts are tough. Big ups to them.”
This was the Orioles’ third shutout. During the series they held a Chicago team that had scored 5.9 runs per game its previous 11 games as of Friday to seven runs total. It was the club’s second series sweep after a season-opening two-gamer versus Toronto.
The Orioles are 20-10 overall and 11-3 at home. They last swept three from the White Sox Aug. 18-20, 2014, on the road. Their last three-game home sweep of the Sox was May 4-6, 1999. The Orioles, who move into first if the Yankees lose to the Cubs later tonight, host the Nationals on Monday evening.