Then he would come back with a disaster; his pitches looked flat, his velocity was down and he couldn’t throw strikes.
Perhaps the question I most often received from about mid-April on was "What’s wrong with Tillman?”
He allowed just five earned runs in his first four starts of the year and then he got shelled in Toronto. That kicked off a stretch where if he wasn’t getting pounded, he still wasn’t going deep into games. But then he’d mix in a gem, like that shutout in Kansas City, only to last one inning and give up eight runs in his next start in Pittsburgh.
We were all starting to wonder whether that confident, consistent starter who won 16 games in 2013 would ever appear again.
Not for a start, mind you; we all know he has the talent to be tremendous for a game against the right team.
But whether Tillman could pitch solidly on a consistent basis.
It looks like that is starting to happen again.
In Friday night’s doubleheader nightcap, Tillman allowed just one run, four hits and one walk in eight innings to the Tampa Bay Rays. Yes, the Rays have been abysmal at the plate this year. But in Tillman’s previous outing he shut out the Yankees in New York for seven innings. He gave up just three runs in seven innings to Toronto before that and one run to Boston in six innings on June 10.
Four starts, four division opponents and Tillman posted a 1.61 ERA in 28 innings. In that span, he dropped his season ERA from 5.20 to 4.18. In four of his last six starts, he has pitched six or more innings and allowed one or no runs.
That’s a big step for a guy who twice posted outings this season without getting an out in the second inning.
“I think it is still coming. It’s still a process. You can’t settle. You’ve always got to keep working,” said Tillman (7-4). “Next time, I want to throw my breaking ball better for strikes. I was able to throw it, but very few were in the zone for good pitches. You’ve always got to get better.”
That mentality is awesome. Don’t settle. That’s what separates a lot of players at this level. But does he believe now, after four consecutive quality starts, that he is starting to become the guy who emerged as an All-Star last season?
“I think so, yeah. It was a struggle for me early. And I think it is coming,” he said. “[Pitching coach Dave Wallace] made some big adjustments with me and it’s coming along.”
In layman’s terms, he’s worked on his mechanics to gain better control of his fastball, which he is now throwing for strikes. And that’s given him more confidence in games.
“I think [it has been] more of a mechanical [change], which transfers over to confidence,” he said.
The Orioles have some flaws that need to be fixed if they are going to compete in the American League East all year – they have to get on base more, hit better with runners in scoring position, find a way to score when they don’t hit home runs and continually receive deeper starts from their rotation.
Yet one of the most important elements for this team is finding a way to keep Tillman pitching consistently well.