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Orioles Analysis: Tillman has turned corner, continues to improve

BALTIMORE - It used to be that when Chris Tillman didn't have his best stuff on a certain night, he would implode.

That's why his lowest ERA was 5.40 in his first three seasons in the majors. And he had been been sent up and down from the minors several times.

But it appears as if Tillman has turned the corner, as he is now 17-5 over his last 30 starts dating back to last season. Tillman said he hopes the inconsistency is gone.

"I hope that's all in the rearview mirror," Tillman said. "I hope I'm able to make adjustments like I did every game, every start. I hope I don't need to. It's something you definitely learn."

Tillman has had those starts where he has needed to make adjustments a few times over the past couple weeks.

On June 14, he walked a batter in each of the first four innings, but was able to settle down and throw six shutout innings.

On Wednesday, he had a high pitch count and gave up three runs, but Tillman was able to get through five innings and pick up his eighth win, one shy of his career-high last season.

"I said it in the spring. Chris came in fully aware that he was out of options. But he pitched like a guy who had three and didn't want to go to Norfolk," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

"And that shows a lot of maturity because he wanted to be a guy for us this year and he has been so far."

It all started last season for Tillman, when he spent the first half of the season in Class AAA Norfolk and didn't make his Baltimore debut until July 4.

The right-hander increased his velocity in spring training in 2012, changed his wind-up and delivery, and worked to improve after three below-average partial seasons to begin his major-league career.

It worked.

He gave up four or more earned runs just twice last season in his 15 starts, as he worked his way to a 9-3 record. His first start this season wasn't great, as he gave up five runs to the Twins.

The 25-year-old has had a few other poor starts, particularly May 29 against the Nationals when he gave up six runs, but he has fared well since then.

Tillman was one of four young Orioles pitchers known as the "cavalry" several seasons ago, as the group worked its way through the minors.

There's no question that he's now been the most successful.

Jake Arrieta has struggled and after his most recent poor outing Monday, he may not get too many more opportunities.

Brian Matusz has been a stellar reliever, but that's not what the organization drafted him to be. And Zach Britton has battled several injuries, and has been off-and-on throughout his career.

Tillman seems to have it figured out.

"There were times last year when he really showed signs of greatness and showed signs of how dominant he could be," Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. "This year he's had some games where he's really gone out and just made you step back and take a deep breath because he's throwing the ball so well."

Tillman said he now understands that he won't always be able to blow away hitters every game or always be able to hit his spots.

"Making mid-game adjustments, that's part of the game," Tillman said. "You're not going to have it every day."

And that's something Tillman used to not be able to do, which is why it seems he is getting closer to becoming a veteran of the staff. Showalter said he has seen Tillman develop over the past couple seasons, and is impressed.

"You can't ever drop your guard. I think more than anything, Chris doesn't do that. He keeps pitching," Showalter said. "He's really showing himself to be more of a pitcher than a thrower."

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