Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a lower back strain Friday, opening a spot in the team's rotation and leaving open the possibility that Tillman could find his form and one day reclaim it.
It became clear after Thursday's game, when Tillman recorded four outs and allowed six runs (five earned), that the Orioles were at a crossroads with him. He'd resisted a DL stint at times last season, and his $3 million contract this season isn't nearly as prohibitive as the $10.05 million owed to him last season.
He even said after Thursday’s start that he wasn’t dealing with anything physical.
Going on the DL might be what keeps him in an Orioles uniform, though. When manager Buck Showalter spoke to the media before Friday’s game, he indicated a decision was imminent on Tillman's future. He spoke as if a goodbye was looming between the Orioles and the pitcher that left fielder Trey Mancini said was a face of the club’s renaissance this decade.
"When you have the type of background that we all have with Chris, you pull for all your players, but at some point, whether it's a coach, a manager, a pitcher, a position player, this is … we know what the job description is," Showalter said. "Nobody knows that better than Chris. It's very frustrating to watch what he's going through on a lot of fronts.”
That frustration has stemmed really since Tillman pushed through shoulder pain for the 2016 stretch run, returning to pitch in September and make the team's wild-card game start against the Toronto Blue Jays.
He debuted a month late in 2017 as shoulder soreness shut him down in the spring, but he never found the form that allowed the Orioles to rely on him over the previous five seasons. He's made 31 appearances (26 starts) since the start of last season, and has an 8.42 ERA in that span.
Showalter on Friday also shot down the idea of Tillman pitching out of the bullpen in the short-term.
"A lot of it is more than just physical, I've found," Showalter said when asked whether he'd seen a fall like this before in his career. "A lot of it is. That's why you see guys leave a place and do real well. That doesn't mean they don't like that place or aren't happy there or didn't like their teammates or coach or manager or trainer. It's just the emotional and mental side of this as much as the physical part of it. I've had players in the past, sometimes, where I've said it's not going to happen here, but it may. In fairness to him, let it happen somewhere else.
"At some point, we're always going to say, 'What's best for us,' and be selfish with it. 'Sorry, I know you'd like to go start somewhere else, but we like you here as a reliever.’ But there will come a time when he'll be able to do that. But I've found with most things like this ... there's other things going on other than just physical sometimes."
Designated hitter Pedro Álvarez, who left Thursday's game with a hamstring injury, will require another day before the Orioles make a decision on whether he'll go on the DL.
"Most of the time, those hamstring cramps, the first humid day — usually they're not just a cramp, but every once in a while, they are," Showalter said. "So, we'll give him another day. I'm not going to expand on his availability tonight, but he's going to get out some and move around a little to see about his availability tonight. But he's going to be active tonight."
The first of what could be four roster moves for the Orioles this weekend came when they added right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis on Friday.
Yacabonis, 26, has been working as a starter at Triple-A Norfolk, making six starts with a 4.95 ERA. He appeared once in the major leagues this season, allowing three runs on two hits and two walks in one inning April 7.
Showalter said if the team was creative, they could make as many as four moves this weekend. Counting adding Yacabonis as one, they can also add a 26th man for Saturday's doubleheader, possibly place Álvarez on the DL, and are able to send outfielder Anthony Santander down Saturday when his Rule 5 draft requirements are met.
The 26th man must stay up through both games, and could stay after. They can also make a move in between games.
Around the horn
Right-hander Darren O'Day (elbow) felt better Friday, Showalter said. … Showalter and several players wore Washington Capitals hats before the game ahead of the the first game of the NHL Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. “If Tampa Bay was playing the Nationals, we’d really have it, right?” he said.