At game time tonight, Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman had an ERA of 9.87, a WHIP of 2.365 and opposing batters were hitting .395 against him this year through four starts.
He seemed an unlikely candidate to deliver seven shutout innings of one-hit ball. But he did exactly that, using improved mechanics and strong secondary pitches to end his 22-start winless streak.
“I think it is definitely mechanical with me,” Tillman said after pitching the Orioles to a 6-0 win in the series opener. “That’s the way I’ve always been. It’s a feel thing. Once I feel it, you can take off running with it. Once I got into rhythm and good tempo tonight, everything fell into place.”
Tillman, Richard Bleier and Mychal Givens combined on a two-hitter to end the Orioles’ five-game losing streak and provide the team just its second victory in 13 games.
Detroit batters went just 1-for-22 against Tillman. José Iglesias doubled in the fifth for the first of the two Tigers hits. Tillman went on to record his 12th career start of seven or more scoreless innings. His last win was on May 7, 2017.
Tillman was glad to be back in the win column, but won’t say this game proves his previous season struggles are behind him for good. He said he didn’t turn any corners here tonight.
“No. Absolutely not. Every start is a challenge,” he said. “The next team could care less what the heck I did tonight. You have to keep working. Just a piece of the puzzle and you have to keep on going.”
Tillman threw 98 pitches and retired the side in order four times. He had eight strikeouts all year before getting five tonight. His fastball velocity averaged just 87.8 mph and he threw fastballs less than half of the time - on 40 pitches. But the slider, curve and changeup were there for him.
“Secondary stuff was better,” he said. “Last start was a little better, execution-wise. But we were able to mix pitches just enough to keep them off-balance. All three of my off-speed pitches were there for me when I needed them. With the fastball the way it is right now, you kind of have to mix and match. Caleb (Joseph) and I sat down before the game and put together a pretty good game plan that we were able to execute. Caleb did an outstanding job. It was fun to throw to him tonight and the defense was as good as you are going to find.”
After going 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA last season and allowing 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings this year, fans had to wonder if they’d ever see this kind of outing from Tillman again. But he said he had not doubted that.
“Not really. I knew what I had to do to get back and it was just hard getting there,” he said. “I had an extra bullpen this time with the rain and I had an extra bullpen last time. It’s starting to pay off.
“I felt real close during the last start. I felt real close. I felt like fastball command last start was really good. This start, not as good, but the off-speed stuff was better. Was able to mix and match and Caleb was right on top of it.”
Tillman left the mound after a 1-2-3 seventh to a nice ovation.
“Feels good. It feels good. Especially with the way we’ve been playing. We know we are capable of better and it feels good to come out of a game with a lead for once,” he said.
The Orioles backed him with three homers. Manny Machado hit No. 9 and Pedro Álvarez hit a pair of 400-foot-plus homers for his 14th career multi-homer game.
“We are all trying to do our part. Every time I go up there, just try to put some good at-bats together. Was fortunate to put some good swings on a couple of balls and drive them out of the park,” Álvarez said as the Orioles improved to 4-9 at home and to 7-19 for the season.