FREDERICK — The plan was for Chris Tillman to pitch deep into his fifth start in the minors Tuesday evening in Frederick, but things didn’t start out that way against Wilmington.
On just the second pitch of the game, Blue Rocks right fielder Nick Heath connected for a home run off Tillman, a less-than-ideal start for the veteran 30-year-old.
A shaky start grew larger in the second inning as Tillman allowed three straight Blue Rocks batters on base by way of a walk, hit by a pitch and a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt. Angelo Castellano, Vance Vizcaino, and D.J. Burt tacked on RBIs as Wilmington jumped out to an early 5-0 lead.
But despite a rough start, Tillman settled down and lasted 6 ⅓ innings, allowing six runs (four earned) with three walks and four strikeouts on 102 pitches.
Since being placed on the 10-day disabled list with a lower back-strain in early May, Tillman has made his rounds through the Orioles’ farm system with stops in Aberdeen, Delmarva, and Norfolk, and now Frederick.
“I’ve been feeling good,” he said after his outing. “It’s kind of been the story. One weird inning, one crazy inning, bad if you want to call it … I just got to get, you know, more consistent and get that bad inning out of the way. I feel like that’s been my whole career but when I’m going good I’m able to eliminate that one inning.”
Since a 16-6 season in 2016, it’s been a rollercoaster ride for Tillman in terms of production. He’s gone 2-12 with a 8.42 ERA in 26 big-league starts since, including a 1-5 record and 10.46 ERA in seven starts this season before being placed on the DL.
He hasn’t been on a major league field in over two months.
Tillman said he felt he would’ve gone a lot deeper if it weren’t for the 37-pitch second inning, and the up-and-down nature of the game has been the story throughout his rehab assignment.
“I feel like that’s how all of them have been,” he said. “One bad inning, one weird inning… for the rest of the game I felt like it was pretty solid.”
Tillman didn’t speculate a return to the majors but said he assumes his next start will be after the normal five-day rest period.
The Orioles have five more games on the regular season schedule before the MLB All-Star Break next week.
As for now, Tillman said he hasn’t spoken to manager Buck Showalter much but still expressed positivity in his pitching performance.
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“I feel ready to pitch,” he said. “I can’t make up [the Orioles’] mind. Based off that second inning, it’d probably be a no, but off the rest of the game it’d probably be a solid yes.”