KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chris Tillman’s four-seam fastball was in the 87-to-91-mph range Friday night, certainly not what it can be or what it has been in the past. In some instances, it would be a cause for alarm.
But he commanded it on both sides of the plate and also threw his curveball and changeup over for strikes. And that was really the difference Friday as he pitched the first shutout of his career.
Tillman said afterward that he didn’t have early command of the curveball, but catcher Steve Clevenger kept calling for it. Tillman found it, and he was practically unhittable. The Kansas City Royals' lineup — which, by the way, is really struggling, despite being a solid group on paper — couldn’t sit on one pitch.
It would be nice to see Tillman’s velocity tick upward again, but it’s probably more encouraging to see him dominate just by having a game plan and executing it by throwing strikes.
Another thing on Tillman: I love his competitiveness, but I also love that after the game, he almost shrugged off the shutout, as if he’s been here before. The 26-year-old takes the game incredibly seriously but doesn’t take himself too seriously. That’s a great combo for any major leaguer.
** When a pitcher throws a gem, the catcher deserves some credit, too. Clevenger acknowledged that he took a lot of pride in Tillman’s game Friday, although he also deflected the spotlight.
I have been around Clevenger only for a few months, but he’s one of those guys who can be labeled “a ballplayer.” He doesn’t do anything that jumps out at you, but he plays the game with a focus and determination that is noticeable.
He hustled down the line Friday to beat out a potential inning-ending double play that allowed the Orioles to score their second run. Afterward, he said simply: “Every night, I try to hustle and do what I can do. And when you hit a ground ball, you should hustle.”
Makes sense to me.
** The start the Royals’ Jeremy Guthrie turned in had to look familiar to Orioles fans. It was eerily similar to so many of his outings when he anchored the club's rotation. He pitched well enough to win, but he received no run support.
He had one unfortunate inning in which a few little mistakes — his throwing error, a wild pitch and a walk — and a lucky bounce on a single helped cost him the game.
** The Orioles signed former All-Star reliever Heath Bell to a minor league contract Friday after the husky right-hander was released by the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday. It’s a classic signing by executive vice president Dan Duquette, who sent a text message to reporters Friday saying he thinks Bell could help the club later this season.
Bell hasn’t been consistently effective since 2011 and had a 7.27 ERA in 13 games with the Rays this year. It would be a surprise if he really does help this team in 2014.
That said, it’s the type of low-risk move that Duquette has made throughout his tenure here, and occasionally they work. The beauty with Duquette, though, is that if Bell doesn’t show promise quickly, Duquette will just move on to the next project. For every Nate McLouth, it seems like there have been five Miguel Tejadas or Dontrelle Willises.
** The Orioles public relations department points out that Chris Tillman is the 78th pitcher in modern club history to have at least one shutout. The all-time club leader is Jim Palmer, who had 53.
Just take a moment to consider that number: 53 career shutouts. Really nothing more to say here.