What's kept right-hander Chris Tillman from sticking in the majors, and what has frustrated everyone who has watched the talented young right-hander in his three seasons with the Orioles, is his maddening inability to maintain consistency from one start to the next.
It was a trend the Orioles were hoping Tillman would buck Thursday night against the Chicago White Sox after turning in arguably his best performance of the season Saturday, allowing two runs in seven innings in a victory against theToronto Blue Jays.
It took eight pitches into Chicago's 6-3 win Thursday night to realize that the other Tillman was on the mound, and just three hours before he was sent back to Triple-A Norfolk, where he'll try to work on a consistent approach. Again.
“It is frustrating,” said Tillman, who likely will be replaced on the 25-man roster Friday by right-handed reliever Willie Eyre. “It ain't gonna cut it. You wear your bullpen out every other two, three starts. You can't have it. I've got to get better.”
The first five White Sox batters got hits against Tillman, who served up a 386-foot, two-run blast to Chicago's No.2 hitter, Alexei Ramirez, and then three consecutive doubles to immediately put his teammates in a 4-0 hole.
Tillman didn't record an out until his 20th pitch of the first inning — a grounder to third by Alex Rios — that immediately brought derisive applause from the announced 21,040 at Camden Yards.
“It happens with young pitchers at this level. It's a big jump,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Just wasn't very crisp. Location of his fastball wasn't very good. Didn't get any counts and didn't really establish anything. Tilly just never got anything going his way.”
The Orioles (45-70) now have lost 12 of 16 and five of seven on the homestand. With the victory, the White Sox (58-59) evened the season series at 4-4. They had this one secured within moments of the first pitch.
“It wasn't necessarily bad pitches, but they got way too comfortable early and [were] diving all over the plate,” said Tillman (3-5). “By the time I noticed it, it was almost too late. You can't let them get that comfortable; I got to pitch effectively inside.”
Of Tillman's 36 major league outings, 12 have been quality starts, meaning he has lasted six innings or more and allowed three runs or fewer. But he hasn't put together consecutive quality starts since Aug. 8-19, 2009 – his third, fourth and fifth starts in the majors.
He either can't go deep in an outing after a quality start, or he gets beat around — as in the games following his six-inning no-hitter this April (four earned in 4 2/3 innings in the next outing) and his signature performance of two-hit ball against the Rangers in July 2010 (eight earned runs in 2 2/3 innings).
“I feel like every other one is a tough one. And having to go to the bullpen in the third, fourth, fifth inning, ain't going to cut it,” Tillman said. “No excuses here. I got to get better. That's the bottom line. I know I can pitch here, but what happened tonight wasn't enough.”
Charged with six runs on eight hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings, he was knocked out of the game by a two-out, two-run single from Juan Pierre that was set up by right fielder Nick Markakis' poor judgment.
With one out in the third and Adam Dunn on first, Brent Morel singled to right. The Orioles' right fielder hesitated when he grabbed the ball, which allowed the lumbering Dunn to head toward third. Markakis attempted to throw out Dunn, who slid in safely. The decision to throw to third, however, allowed Morel to get to second.
Morel and Dunn scored on Pierre's single to first, which bounced away from Chris Davis, who in turn bounced into, and nearly tackled, first base umpire Phil Cuzzi.
Markakis made up for his defensive gaffe by making a little personal history against Chicago starter Mark Buehrle (10-5).
Buehrle had retired the first seven batters he faced until Nolan Reimold doubled with one out in the third. J.J. Hardy drove him in with a two-out single, and Markakis followed with a two-run homer onto the flag court in right field to cut the deficit to 6-3.
It was Markakis' 11th homer of the season and first since July 24. It also was the 100th of Markakis' big league career.
“I'd feel a lot better if we won the game,” said Markakis, who traded an autographed ball and bat to the fan who caught No. 100.
The Orioles didn't score again against Buehrle, who lasted eight innings and allowed just six hits and no walks while striking out six. It was the 18th consecutive start in which he gave up three runs or fewer.
“You know what type of pitcher Buehrle is on the mound, you know what you're going to get out of him and we know what we're up against,” Markakis said. “He's tough. He knows how to pitch. Been doing it for a long time, and he kept us shut down.”
White Sox closer Sergio Santos picked up his 25th save with a scoreless ninth.
Three Orioles relievers combined to keep Chicago off the board after the third. Brad Bergesen led the way with 41/3scoreless innings, his longest outing as a reliever.
Bergesen could be a candidate to take Tillman's spot in the rotation, which comes up next Tuesday in Oakland. Lefty Brian Matusz, who threw a shutout Thursday for Norfolk, also is in the mix.
Tillman, however, will be back pitching for the Tides, feeling like he again missed a chance to show he can pitch consistently well in the majors.
“There's just so many opportunities here to establish yourself, and he hasn't been able to do it on a consistent basis,” Showalter said. “Keep in mind he's 23 years old. We've got guys pitching in the Carolina League his age. Everybody does. It's just staying together with his delivery and maturing about certain things that go into being a good pitcher at this level.”