Orioles thoughts and observations on Chris Tillman, Jim Johnson and Chris Davis

The Baltimore Sun

Heading into the season, Buck Showalter believed that one of the organization’s talented young starters needed to make a significant step forward for the Orioles to remain competitive. The O's needed to grow their starting rotation differently than their division rivals, and success hinged on promise becoming production with one of their young arms.

That’s exactly what 25-year-old right-hander Chris Tillman has done.  

“It’s something we knew he was capable of,” Showalter said. “We thought in the offseason we needed one of our guys to kind of pop and go to the next level and I think Chris is in the process of doing that. And it’s a reason we’ve been competitive this year that we’ve had a young pitcher like him take it to the next level.”

Among the things the Orioles have done over the past two seasons to become a contender, the growth of  Tillman – who is 23-6 with a 3.42 ERA since his call-up from Triple-A Norfolk on the Fourth of July last season – largely goes unnoticed.

Friday’s outing might have been Tillman’s best. He held the Giants scoreless for his first five innings and ended the night having allowed just one run on four hits over eight innings. Tillman struck out a career-high nine hitters, including five straight during one span over the second and third innings.

“Everything was there for me,” Tillman said. “My offspeed was there, I didn’t need my changeup as much tonight as I have in the past and fastball command was there for the most part. It helped me get ahead and stay ahead through the count throughout the game. Just trusting [catcher Matt Wieters]. Have a lot of confidence in him. He makes it easy for us.”

** Jim Johnson blew his seventh save of the season Friday night, allowing the first three Giants to reach base before getting an out. The way the inning began, with Hunter Pence’s single up the middle just getting past Johnson and into center field for a game-tying single, it didn’t look good for the Orioles in the bottom of the ninth.

Despite his struggles Friday, you still have to give Johnson credit for stranding the winning run on third with one out.

“I don’t think I made that many bad pitches tonight,” Johnson said. “I think I went out there with some pretty good stuff. I missed a couple pitches down in the zone, a couple balls got through. But you got to take your chances and trust what you are doing. I felt like I could have gotten out of it with runners on first and second [and] no one out. You always got to feel like you can get out of it.”

** I was a little surprised that the Giants walked Adam Jones to face Chris Davis. Yes, Javier Lopez is one of the best left-handers against lefties, but Davis is the best run producer in the game and I’m not sure if there are other hitters the Orioles would want at the plate in the clutch. And Davis delivered with a two-out, two-run double off Lopez.

Jones had been on a tear out West, going 9-for-13 in three games here, so you have to pick your poison and given Davis’ night up to that point – he struck out twice and walked – maybe it was worth the gamble.

But Davis can change a game with one swing, just like he did Wednesday with a tie-breaking three-run homer in the top of the eighth that broke open the game in the Orioles' 10-3 win over San Diego. Before that at-bat, Davis was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and four men left on base.

“I think I’ve had some pretty bad at-bats against lefties the last few games,” Davis said of facing Lopez on Friday night. “But when it comes time in a clutch situation right there, as a hitter you think the guy is going to be aggressive and throw strikes. You obviously don’t want to get behind, so you want to get on those guys early. Tonight, I was just trying to grind out an at-bat and get a pitch over the plate.”

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