Long balls haunt Orioles starter Chris Tillman again

Chris Tillman has allowed three homers in back-to-back starts.

Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman allowed just one homer in his first eight starts of the season. But after the team’s 6-5 victory over the New York Yankees on Friday night, he has allowed eight homers over his past four starts, including three home runs in each of his past two outings.

Tillman left Friday’s game trailing, 5-2, but the Orioles bailed him out – the third straight game in which the offense rallied to win following a rough starting pitching performance.

“Yeah,” Tillman said. “I don’t think we’re ever out of it. These guys have got a good bullpen, but so do we. I think that as long as we can keep it close, our guys are going to put up some runs, and they picked me up big time tonight. So did the bullpen. It was a good game all the way around, a really good defensive game.”

Tillman faced the minimum number of hitters through his first 3 1/3 innings, allowing only a Brett Gardner single in the first that was erased by an inning-ending double play.

“You don’t see three better innings than he pitched to start the game,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Pitch count was down. We were hoping that he’s going to be able to get deep in the game and give some guys a blow in the ‘pen. I almost took him out of the game. He threw close to 40 pitches that one inning and that’s about where we stop. ... Kept the game engaged. There were a lot of opportunities for the game to get away from us. It was 5-2 when he left. He was very close to coming out of that 4-2.”

But Tillman was far too often behind in the count, and the Yankees took advantage of being ahead. All three homers against Tillman on Friday night came with him behind in the count, including 3-1 counts on Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodgriguez’s back-to-back homers in the fourth inning.

In fact, Tillman fell behind both Beltran and Rodriguez 3-0 before yielding the long balls. After issuing a one-out walk to Gardner, Tillman fells behind Beltran on three straight changeups that missed the spot. After a called strike on a 92-mph fastball, Beltran jumped on a 91-mph fastball over the plate and sent it into the center-field seats.

After starting Rodriguez with a first-pitch knuckle curve that fell for a ball, Tillman threw him four straight fastballs, the last of which Rodriguez took the other way onto the flag court in right.  

“When you’re not throwing your off-speed for strikes, you’ve got to throw something for strikes,” Tillman said of being fastball heavy. “Trying to get back in the count all the time with a fastball, it doesn’t work. When you’re ahead, it’s a great pitch. But when you’re behind it, not so much.”

Tillman allowed a third home run in the fifth on a 1-0 hanging slider to Austin Romine, giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead.   

“Yeah, I’m falling behind,” Tillman said.  “When you’re falling behind and trying to get back in the count and make pitches, they’re sitting pretty much on one pitch in one spot. When you’re giving it to them, they’re going to put a lot of good swings on it. Pretty poor execution of my off-speed tonight, and I think that hurt me.”

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