"He's steadily progressed every year, which is impressive, especially as a young guy," said catcher Matt Wieters, who has caught Tillman since their time at Double-A Bowie in 2008. "You normally see a jump up and then a step back. And he's just progressed and kind of stayed the course and continued to believe that what he's doing, if it keeps working, it's going to pay off for him. It started to pay off for him last year. I think the most impressive thing about him is whether he's had a good game or a bad game or indifferent, he has the same mentality of coming to the field ready to do what he can to help the team win."

Last year's 16-win season matched the win total of Tillman's first four major league seasons combined. He capped a first half in which he went 11-3 with an American League All-Star Game selection, becoming the first Orioles pitcher to be named to the Midsummer Classic since 2008.

"Chris Tillman is a totally different pitcher now," right-hander Miguel Gonzalez said. "He knows how to pitch. He has a little more experience now. He was one of the guys who was really big for us last year. I'm happy for him and proud for him, and I'm going to keep rooting for him because he is one of my favorites out there. He has done a big change."

During one span of the season from May 24 to Aug. 9, the Orioles won 13 of Tillman's 14 starts and he was 11-1 over that span. He struck out eight or more hitters in seven of his final 13 starts and won eight games on the road, sixth most in the AL.

Perhaps most importantly, Tillman recorded quality starts in 21 of his 33 outings in 2013 and became the fifth Orioles starter to pitch 200 innings since 2001.

"I think consistency is a big part of it," Tillman said. "It comes down to being consistent, being a guy who your teammates know what they're going to get every time you go out there and being consistent with all my pitches. Whether I'm behind or ahead in the count, I know I can throw them for a strike. In the past, I fell behind, and it seems like I always had to go to the fastball, and it just wasn't working in the big leagues.

"I'm a person who is tough on myself. I look back on my starts, I judge myself pretty tough. In the past, I'd give up a home run and think, 'Man that was a pretty good pitch.' Now I say, 'That's a horrible pitch. It needs to be better.' I think that's the way this organization is getting us to judge ourselves a little tougher and not make excuses."

What can Tillman now do for an encore in 2014? For one, he needs to cut down on home runs allowed after giving up 33 last season, which was third-most in the major leagues. He said he doesn't want to set any goals as far as win totals, ERA or innings. That's selfish to do, he said. It may work for some, but he doesn't see the point.

"For me, I want to go out there and be consistent," he said. "I want to be a guy who my teammates can continue to count on. I want to be reliable and stay healthy. Whatever it takes to get on the field every fifth day, that's my goal, not anything outside of that."

He does see that his success has correlation with the Orioles' return to winning.

"I think it has a lot to do with it," he said. "The way this organization was when I got here to where it is now, it's pretty evident. It wasn't pretty, but the strides that have been made, and the way this locker room has changed and just the vibe around it, I think it goes to show where the organization is going. It's going in the right direction, and I think it's going to be a big year."

Wieters said he believes Tillman has just scratched the surface of his potential.

"I've caught him since he was 19 or 20 in Double-A, and he's got great stuff and a great mentality, and when you have those two things and you can figure out how to put them together, the sky's the limit," Wieters said. "He's not going to change through success or failure, which is refreshing to see in this day and age. Someone who is not necessarily going to care about what people say about him. He's going to take of business and take care of what he can take care of."

For someone who is only 25, Tillman has seen a lot — struggled a lot, and suddenly, seen his share of success. He's now better for it.

"I just think it was growing pains, really," Tillman said. "You learn from failure, and I failed a lot. I don't wish it on anybody, but it's important. You can't go out there and pitch well all the time. You're going to get knocked around every now and then. I think there's a learning curve, and you have to take bits and pieces from what everybody's saying."

eencina@baltsun.com

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