Tillman’s struggles, falling four games under and farm notes

In 2013, Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman was an American League All-Star. In the 2014 through 2016 seasons, he was the Orioles’ opening day starter. From 2012 through 2016, his ERA was under 4.00, but now he sports an ERA of 7.75.

Tillman’s continuous struggles is one of the biggest mysteries of the 2017 season. He has contended several times he is not hurt. If he is not, why is he pitching so badly this late into the season?

If Tillman or the Orioles had that answer, they would have fixed something long ago.

But Tillman struggles on. No doubt he remains a leader in the clubhouse and a respected veteran. He badly wants to win, but right now something won’t allow him to do much of that.

From 2012-16, Tillman went 65-33 with an ERA of 3.81. He had four strong seasons with a mediocre one in 2015. He pitched 170 innings or more four times with an ERA of 3.77 or less four times.

tillman-white-2017-side.jpgFrom 2012-16, the Orioles produced the fourth-best winning percentage in the majors at .548 (444-366). During that time, they had a win percentage of .643 (92-51) in Tillman starts. A team with that winning percentage for a full year would have 104 victories.

But it has been a real struggle this season for Tillman who allowed four runs and tied his career high with six walks in 5 1/3 innings in Sunday’s 5-4 loss to the Angels.

Tillman in 2016: 16-6 with 3.77 ERA, .244 average against, 16 quality starts
Tillman in 2017: 1-7 with 7.75 ERA, .342 average against, 3 quality starts

The Orioles went 22-8 in Tillman’s 30 starts last year. They are 5-11 in his 16 starts this year.

Tillman was asked after his outing Sunday how frustrated he might be as he looks for signs he is coming around each start. He sees some but the results don’t often show it.

“It is frustrating, but at the same time if you start thinking about that or dwelling on that, you are not going to make any progress,” Tillman said. “You have to stay focused and keep working on what you need and you’ll start making some ground up. I’m a firm believer, if you stay true to who you are, it will iron itself out. We are definitely getting back to where we need to be.”

Meanwhile, the Orioles won the series-opening game of the last four series, but lost three and tied one, winning none of those series. Since they started their recent West Coast road trip with a win to get to 56-56, they are 4-8 and now are 60-64.

They can’t seem to get on a roll or build any momentum. They won Friday’s game on Manny Machado’s thrilling walk-off grand slam and then lost Saturday and Sunday at Camden Yards.

“It’s kind of been the story of the whole year for us,” first baseman Chris Davis said. “There have just been games we let slip away and couldn’t close out, whether it is scoring a run or tacking on a few runs. Giving ourselves some breathing room.

“What is going to define us this year is whether or not we can make that push and start winning those games. We are getting down to pretty crucial times when we need to start winning games and making a move.”

They have 38 games to go so we can still say there is more time to get something going and that it’s a long season. But the Orioles keep letting chances slip away and the weekend series was the latest example of that.

Farm notes: Toledo beat Triple-A Norfolk 2-1 Sunday, giving the Tides their first series loss since July 17-19. Since then, the Tides had won six series and tied two, going 19-10.

Since moving to the bullpen on July 27, left-hander Chris Lee has posted a 0.52 ERA, allowing one earned run over 17 1/3 innings with seven walks and 15 strikeouts. Lee has held opponents to a .243 average as a reliever. Meanwhile, Norfolk’s bullpen has posted an ERA of 0.77 during the Tides’ six-game homestand.

Double-A Bowie is clinging to first place in the Eastern League’s Western Division. The Baysox (66-59) lead Altoona by one game after Sunday’s 6-5 win over Erie. Outfielder Austin Hays homered and that was his 30th between Single-A Frederick and Bowie this year. DJ Stewart went 3-for-3 with an RBI and is hitting .270. David Hess allowed two runs over six frames to get the win and is 10-8 with a 4.13 ERA.

Ryan Mountcastle raised his average from .169 to .198 the past two games, going 4-for-7 with four doubles and two RBIs for the Baysox. He hit three doubles Saturday to tie a team single-game record.

Frederick outfielder Ademar Rifaela is having a pretty good year. How good? He has a chance to win the Carolina League’s Triple Crown. He is batting .290 to rank fourth in the league and leads the league with 23 homers and 73 RBIs. Rifaela is 22 and from Curacao. The current batting leader in the Carolina League is Mountcastle at .314. He hasn’t played for Frederick since July 18, but still has enough plate appearances to qualify for the league leaders.

Right-handed pitchers Leonardo Rodriguez and Edwin Rojas were named mid-season All-Stars in the Dominican Summer League.

Rodriguez, 19, has gone 1-4 with a 2.56 ERA over 10 starts. In 45 2/3 innings, the native of Boca Chica, Dominican Republic has allowed 36 hits with 12 walks and 42 strikeouts.

Rojas, 21, has gone 2-6 with a 3.70 ERA over 12 starts. In 56 innings, he has given up 60 hits with 21 walks and 21 strikeouts.

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