By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
9:02 PM EDT, July 4, 2012
The knock on Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman had been his inability to work deep into his starts. Even in his best moments at Triple-A Norfolk this season, Tillman's high pitch counts raised doubt whether he'd be able to give the Orioles the quality innings they need at the major league level.
The 24-year-old Tillman took it as a challenge. Called up to make his first major league start in nearly 11 months, he wanted to show he belonged after spending most of the previous three seasons moving back and forth between Baltimore and the minors.
Tillman made the most of the opportunity in Wednesday's series finale against the Mariners, pitching the best game of his major league career as the Orioles won, 4-2, in front of an announced crowd of 21,982 on the Fourth of July at Safeco Field.
Tillman threw a career-high 8 1/3 innings, allowing just two hits -- two unearned runs were charged to him after he left the game -- and striking out seven while throwing 125 pitches. He also walked two batters.
"It's a good start," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We kind of got to the point where we needed a little fresh gunpowder and [Tillman] provided it."
The win gave the Orioles (44-37) their first series win in Seattle in nearly three years -- their last coming July 6-8, 2009. Over the three-game series, Orioles starting pitchers had a 2.42 ERA.
After losing 10 of their previous 13 games, the Orioles won back-to-back games to conclude the series with the Mariners. They'll wrap up the first half of the season with a four-game series beginning Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels.
"It's big for us more just the way we've been playing," catcher Matt Wieters said. "We haven't been playing consistently good baseball and in order for us to win a couple games here after losing the first one, we had some well-pitched games. That's what you need."
The win pushed the Orioles to 1 1/2 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays and 2 1/2 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox for second place in the American League East after both teams lost Wednesday. It also clinched the Orioles' 16th series win this season, matching their total for the entire 2011 season.
Tillman's fastball sat at 93-94 mph and reached 95-97 throughout the game. His 120th pitch of the game was clocked at 97 mph. He mixed it with a vicious curveball, but the key was Tillman's changeup.
"I've had my changeups now for a while and I've been able to throw it for strikes when I'm ahead in the count or behind in the count," Tillman said. "And it was really there for me again. And I'm really pleased with where that's at."
He kept his pitch count low, throwing just 76 pitches through his first six innings -- fewer pitches than in any of his starts through six innings this season at Norfolk.
"It was awesome," center fielder Adam Jones said. "We were in the dugout a lot and that's awesome. We were able to sit down and relax. It was warm with the sun. He kept us in the dugout because his innings were rather quick."
Tillman retired the first 10 batters he faced before Mariners center fielder Michael Saunders hit a single up the middle with one out in the fourth.
"Today was as good as I've seen him for a long time," Wieters said.
Jones hit his 20th homer of the season, giving him consecutive 20-homer seasons for the first time in his career. Jones hit his 20th homer of the 2011 season on Aug. 6.
Mark Reynolds had his first multi-hit game since June 14 (he hit .073 in the 15 games since then), and Robert Andino had his first multi-hit game since June 5 (he hit .146 in 18 games since then).
Tillman left the game leading 4-0 in the ninth with runners at second and third and one out. Both runners scored, but closer Jim Johnson converted his 25th save.
After the game, the Orioles optioned Tillman to Double-A Bowie so he could keep pitching over the All-Star break. He will pitch for the Baysox on Monday and return to Baltimore to start the Orioles' third game of the second half a week from Sunday.
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