MINNEAPOLIS– Chris Tillman’s supposed rebirth didn’t hit a snag Monday night in Minnesota. It derailed in a horrible way.
The 24-year-old right-hander joined the Orioles with optimism he could show he could be a consistent major-league starter. At Triple-A Norfolk, he refined his mechanics, made his delivery more fluid and above all, showed the Orioles he deserved an opportunity to prove what he could do in the club’s starting rotation.
A dominating Orioles season debut 11 days ago in Seattle provided hope – just what the organization needed with their major league rotation tattered with uncertainty. But after an ugly outing in his second major league start of the season on Monday night – in which Tillman lasted just 2/3 inning, the shortest outing by an Orioles starter in nearly a year – raised the question whether that hope was false.
The Orioles’ 19-7 loss to the Twins on Monday night at Target Field was atrocious. Their 19 runs allowed were the most in more than three years, since allowing the same number on April 15, 2009. The 12-run margin of defeat tied a season high.
By comparison, the Twins had just 15 hits in the entire three-game season-opening series at Camden Yards. They totaled 20 on Monday night alone.
“He had a real good outing and he struggled tonight,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Tillman. “He’s done that before. That’s why when guys always try to put everything in a little tight box like where he’s putting his foot or where he’s taking his hands out. This is a lot more than just mechanical things. His arm strength was good and if we make a couple plays behind him, we made two or three errors, they only gave us one.”
With the loss, which against a struggling team that had lost five straight and seven of eight, the Orioles (46-43) fell nine games behind the division-leading Yankees but remained in second place just 1/2 game ahead of the Rays and Red Sox.
Also, it marked the first time the Orioles were fewer than four games above .500 since April 24, when were 10-7.
With starter Jason Hammel shelved for at least a month after undergoing successful knee surgery earlier in the day, the Orioles could have pieced together his scheduled start Wednesday from the bullpen, but the Baltimore relievers were forced to produce 22 outs on Monday. And with left-hander Zach Britton making his first major league start of the season on Tuesday, the reinforcements in Norfolk are getting scarce.
The story of the night, however, was Tillman. The knock on the young pitcher has been inconsistency, specifically his inability to piece together back-to-back quality starts.
He couldn’t duplicate the success of his fine debut against the Mariners – when he allowed two unearned runs in 8 1/3 innings – and has yet to put together back-to-back starts since 2009 (Aug. 8, Aug. 14), his third and fourth big-league starts. Over four stints with the Orioles, Tillman has made 38 major-league starts.
“I’m going to forget about it,” Tillman said. “I know what I need to do to get better. And I didn’t do it tonight. And like I said, it just comes down to being consistent. Fastball was OK I just wasn’t able to throw the breaking pitches for strikes, so they’d just sit on the heater whenever it was. That equation doesn’t come out very well.”
It was the shortest start by an Orioles starter since July 30, 2011, when Britton lasted just 1/3 inning at Yankee Stadium.
Tillman threw 49 pitches in his ill-fated first inning, facing 10 batters before he was pulled, charged with seven runs on five hits – even though just one of them was earned.
“Command wasn’t quite what it was in Seattle and the breaking ball wasn’t as sharp,” catcher Matt Wieters said of Tillman. “But he still had good enough stuff to be able to get through that inning and have a good outing. They just hit a lot of balls that found holes, some hit bags and it just didn’t go his way today. I think that’s the way he has got to look at it and just be ready to go out there the next time and put this one behind him.”
Tillman nearly escaped the inning having allowed just one run, but with the bases loaded and two outs, Mark Reynolds couldn’t snag Ryan Doumit’s sharp grounder to first on an infield shift toward right field, plating three runs. Three batters later, after Denard Span’s three-run double, Tillman was out of the game.
“Looking back on it, I just should have ran and covered first because (second baseman Steve) Tolleson was playing short right field right there and it would have been a really easy play for him,” Reynolds said. “It’s one of those reaction plays where I think my third base instincts kicked in and just tried to get everything I could get. Obviously it was a tone-setter.”
The Twins’ seven-run first tied an Orioles season-high for runs allowed in one inning (May 7 against Texas, April 15 at Toronto). The Twins (37-52) hadn’t scored more than five runs in a game since July 3.
Tillman’s early exit forced the Orioles bullpen into a long day, which is starting to take a toll on a relief corps that was one of baseball’s best just a week ago.
The Orioles pen yielded 12 runs of its own on Monday night. And in the four games since the All-Star break, the Orioles bullpen has been forced into 23 2/3 innings of service, pitching to a 7.61 ERA in that span. At the break, the pen owned a 2.75 ERA.
How bad was it for the Orioles? With runners on second and third and two outs, Ben Revere’s grounder up the middle hit off the front of the second base bag and bounced away from shortstop J.J. Hardy to score two runs and make it 10-2. Even All-Star closer Jim Johnson was tagged for five runs in the eighth inning, removed from the game after retiring one of the six batters he faced.
Reynolds hit a three-run homer in the fifth for the Orioles, his eight of the season and just his second off a left-hander, and had his first four-RBI game of the season. Endy Chavez added a two-run homer in the ninth, his first since June 2. Nick Markakis and Adam Jones had three hits each for the Orioles, but that seven-run inning was too much to overcome.