The Steadiness of Chris Tillman

Chris Tillman had another excellent start on Tuesday Night against the San Diego Padres, going seven strong innings, allowing his only run to Carlos Quentin via a solo home run. It was the latest of a string of quality starts that Tillman has put together early in the 2013 season.

The “new” Chris Tillman started with a pre-All Star Break call up in July 2012. The 25 year old, who had previously struggled over command and consistency during the 2009-2011 seasons, was beginning to put together a string of consistent starts. The question in my head and probably the Orioles organization was simple. Was 2012 a facade - a flash in the pan or the start of a young pitcher finding his ability?

I’ve always been a fan of Tillman. The flashes of brilliance have always been there. On July 10, 2010, Tillman went 6 2/3 innings against the Texas Rangers, allowing 1 run (1 earned run), 4 strike outs, and 6 walks. The Rangers would go on to lose the World Series that year. Though a dominating performance, 6 walks showed a lack of command.

On April 2, 2011, Tillman went 6 strong innings, not allowing a run while striking out 5, and walking only 3. He took a no-hitter into the 6th inning, as he had done the prior July in Texas. Flashes of brilliance, that couldn’t be followed up on a consistent basis.

When Tillman was recalled on July 4, 2012, he brought with him three months of work with the Orioles minor league pitching coordinator Rick Peterson. Tillman, Peterson, and AAA Norfolk Pitching Coach Mike Griffin worked to shorten Tillman’s delivery from the wind up, thus making his stride much more compact and easy to repeat. Tillman started slowly in 2012 at AAA Norfolk, but by the end of June, he had compiled a 3.64 ERA over 89 1/3 innings, with a very impressive 9.27 strikeouts per 9 innings, while only allowing 3.02 walks per 9, and .50 home runs per 9.

Tillman succeeded immediately upon being called up to face his former team, the Seattle Mariners, on the fourth of July. He went 8 1/3 innings, scattering 2 hits and allowing 2 runs (0 earned), striking out 7 and walking only 2. He hit 97 numerous times throughout the game. He proceeded to impress over the next three months, ending the season with a 2.97 ERA, despite having shaky outings against the Twins and Yankees.

His most noteworthy outing may have come against the Yankees on July 31. He allowed 5 runs in the first and then rebounded to shut the New Yorkers down for the next four innings. After the game, manager Buck Showalter would tell the media that Tillman was very sick and how the gutsy effort was noted, especially after the Orioles exploded for 7 runs in the 2nd to take the lead, which would secure a 9-5 win.

The three months of success, still a small sample size in terms of baseball statistics, was encouraging, but would it hold up in 2013? After a slow start in 2013, but by no means a bad one, Tillman has rattled off 6 2/3, 6, 8, 6, and 7 inning performances, allowing less than three runs in four of the five starts. With starting pitching always being at a premium, Tillman’s consistancy into a more than reliable third starter (with #2 potential) will help the O’s as they go after a second consecutive playoff appearance.