Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman, who received a cortisone injection to quell the nagging discomfort in his throwing shoulder, is scheduled to resume throwing Wednesday with a long-toss session.
The club hopes the injection provides Tillman the ability to pitch throughout this season, but when he will be able to return to the club’s rotation is still unclear.
Tillman, who has provided the Orioles with 14 wins, 32 starts an 190 innings per year over the past four seasons, will certainly not be ready for Opening Day and manager Buck Showalter said he won’t likely get into a game before the team breaks camp in two weeks.
“It’s frustrating for him, especially when you’re talking about a guy who’s been an Opening Day starter for us,” Showalter said. “He knows what he means to the club. But never have I had a feeling that anything’s crept in there as far as his status at the end of the season. It’s really never been in his mindset.
“You look at him and it’s all about getting [back]. … We feel comfortable with that. It’s just that we take the right steps that [allow him] to take the ball in May through the end of the season, whenever that may be.”
Those steps begin with Tillman throwing a long-toss session Wednesday and then another one Friday after a day of rest. After that, Showalter said the team believes Tillman can pick up where he ended his progression, when he his third full-mound bullpen session after 10 throws last Sunday.
“If that goes well, we’ve got it mapped out all the way through April if he goes well,” Showalter said. “But he could have one day that could change all that. If the first one goes bad, [who knows?] It’s just a little push. We need to get an idea of what we’re dealing with. We feel good about it structurally.”
Because the Orioles have three days off in the first eight days of the regular season, they don’t need a fifth starter until April 15, and one of the focuses of camp in recent days has been evaluating candidates who can fill Tillman’s rotation spot while he’s out. Among those in the mix for that assignment are right-handers Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson and Gabriel Ynoa, and lefties Chris Lee and Jayson Aquino.
“We’ll have a meeting on [Wednesday] to get some of those ideas that everybody has,” Showalter said. "There are different scenarios, but I’ve been planning since Chris had some trouble last time out. … I wasn’t counting on him anyway, so all of my plans have been without him there for April since last time. With all the off days, there’s some maneuverability there.”
Tillman received a platelet-rich-plasma injection in December when he felt lingering shoulder discomfort similar to what sent him to the disabled list last August.
He was brought along methodically and was progressing until the premature scrapping of his third bullpen session. There was some concern whether the soreness was a side effect of an antibiotic Tillman took. But after a few days, the decision was made to get an injection to ease the discomfort.
Aquino continuing to impress
Aquino has emerged as one of the candidates competing to fill the early season rotation spot open with Tillman likely to open the season on the disabled list. And Aquino continued his strong spring Saturday, tossing two scoreless innings in relief in the Orioles’ 5-4 Grapefruit League win over the New York Yankees.
Aquino retired six of the seven batters he faced, allowing just one hit. The lefty was so efficient in his outing that he went to the bullpen for another simulated inning.
The Orioles used three starting pitchers in Saturday’s game, a sign that spring training innings are going away as starters increase their inning counts. But Showalter said he’s confident the club has enough innings to have Aquino continue to build his innings while competing for a roster spot by pitching other starters in minor league games or B games.
“We’re going to take some of those guys, the Bundys, the [Kevin] Gausmans, [Ubaldo] Jimenez and let them have their outings down below and continue to look at guys that we’re thinking about as the fifth starter in the better look because they’re going to start to see better hitters in the lineup for longer stretches, especially with the WBC done,” Showalter said.
Around the horn
Showalter said outfielder Seth Smith (hamstring) should return to game action early next week. ... Utility man Ryan Flaherty, who received a cortisone shot for a sore shoulder, could return to Grapefruit League games as soon as Monday. ... The Orioles should have at least two of their five players in the World Baseball Classic returning soon. Team USA, which includes outfielder Adam Jones and reliever Mychal Givens, plays the Dominican Republic, which has third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Welington Castillo, on Saturday in a game that will eliminate the loser from the tournament.