'A LOT OF PROGRESS,' BUT TILLMAN'S SEASON OVER

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CLEVELAND -- It was the worst possible way for Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman to close out an otherwise encouraging 2009 season.

The rookie right-hander was rocked for six runs and six hits in just two innings in the Orioles' 9-0 loss Sunday to the Cleveland Indians, who completed a three-game sweep at Progressive Field.

While Orioles manager Dave Trembley wouldn't say it officially, the team will shut down the 21-year-old and allow somebody else, likely Chris Waters, to make Tillman's final scheduled start. The Orioles didn't want Tillman to pitch much more than 162 innings this season, which represented a 20 percent increase from the 135 2/3 he logged last year in the minors.

Tillman has pitched 161 2/3 innings this season in 30 combined outings for Triple-A Norfolk and the Orioles. Trembley was ready to allow him to exceed the 20 percent mark slightly, but Tillman's performance didn't allow it Sunday.

"I'm real confident that this doesn't damper the work that he's done this season," said Trembley, who added that Tillman's status for what would have been his final outing was predetermined even before Sunday's start. "For us, he's made a lot of progress. He's a guy that we count on heavily for the future."

Tillman will finish his first major league season with a 2-5 record and a 5.40 ERA after going 8-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 18 starts for Norfolk.

Sunday's outing marked the first time since his major league debut that he didn't go at least five innings. It also was the most runs he has given up all season.

Not wanting to end the season on that note, Tillman maintained that he is still preparing himself to make one final start until he is told otherwise.

"In my [mind], I'm going the whole season," he said. "I can't shut down or I'll be even worse the next start. I've been hearing rumors, but mentally I have to stay focused for my last start. I just take all the positives into the offseason.

"Obviously, this is a pretty bad start and unacceptable, especially for me. It's disappointing, but hopefully, I'll get a next one so I can go into the offseason a little more comfortable."

'Searching for answers'

Even though struggling closer Jim Johnson gave up the game-winning run in the ninth inning Saturday on Jhonny Peralta's one-out single, it was the at-bat to Luis Valbuena that alarmed Trembley. Valbuena hit a leadoff single, moved to second on a groundout and then scored the winning run.

"The first hitter showed you everything you needed to know," Trembley said. "Fastball, curveball, changeup. He showed everything. This is just my opinion, and I love the guy, but I don't think he's different than anybody else. When things aren't going well for you, you have a tendency to maybe get away from your strengths and try to come up with a solution by showing and doing too much. ... I think he's searching for answers, really."

In eight appearances this month, Johnson has a loss, two blown saves and a 14.21 ERA. He acknowledged Saturday that he's in a funk but said that it had nothing to do with the pressure of filling the closer's role in place of the traded George Sherrill.

"You saw him last year. He had more movement on his fastball. He had late life. His breaking ball was better," Trembley said. "At times this year, his breaking ball has been nothing more than a take pitch. I don't believe he's tired. I believe, if anything, the guy is so competitive that he's probably overthrowing, and that's not good."

Around the horn

Outfielder Felix Pie (left quadriceps strain) sat out a second straight game and will be re-evaluated today, but Trembley said he is much improved and could play in the Tampa Bay Rays series. ... Chris Lambert struck out five in three innings, setting a new career high. ... The Orioles were swept at Cleveland for the first time since Aug. 19-21, 2005. ... With a walk Sunday, Brian Roberts recorded his third season with at least 25 steals, 50 doubles, 70 walks and 100 runs. Only four other players have done that. ... The Orioles have scored only 29 runs during their 10-game losing streak. They've been shut out 10 times this season.

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