Chris Tillman made the trip to New York on Friday morning, the day after making his third minor league rehabilitation start, ready to be activated from the disabled list. But the Orioles have yet to decide whether his next start — scheduled for Tuesday — will be with the major league club in Boston or with a minor league affiliate.
Tillman (shoulder) reiterated that he believes he’s ready to return to the Orioles rotation against the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday. But all signs point to him making at least one more rehab start after going five innings Thursday and throwing 71 pitches (46 strikes) for High-A Frederick at Potomac.
“I don’t think we’ve jumped to any conclusions yet,” he said. “It’s still up in the air. I think I’m pitching Tuesday. It’s just a matter of where it’s at. … I feel good. I’m sore, good sore. I think any sore is good. I mean for the most part, I feel pretty good today.”
Tillman might not find out his next step until throwing his between-starts bullpen session Sunday. If he doesn’t start in Boston, he could pitch again for Frederick at home, or at Double-A Bowie (though that game starts at 11:05 a.m.). If the Orioles want to see him pitch against a higher level of competition, Tillman could go on the road to pitch for Triple-A Norfolk at Charlotte.
Tillman met with manager Buck Showalter, pitching coach Roger McDowell (who was at Potomac to watch Tillman’s start) and bullpen coach Alan Mills to discuss the next step.
“In my gut, I’ve got an idea of what we’re going to do,” Showalter said. “Want to wait and see how the work day goes. We are going to have to make some adjustments if we decide he’s going to need another start down there.”
Showalter and Tillman have compared the pitcher’s rehab process to the meticulousness of spring training, where line scores are thrown out for the sake of working on arm strength, command and trying to remain healthy. On Thursday, Tillman allowed six runs (four earned) on eight hits for Frederick.
“Keep in mind, spring training is usually six starts,” Showalter said. “This will be four coming up, whether it’s here or somewhere else. So, we’ll see how the work day goes.”
Even though Tillman said he’s ready to be activated, he added that there’s no harm in making a fourth rehab start.
“Like I said last night, I’ve felt like I’ve covered all the bases, but at the same time I think you can never get enough pitching,” Tillman said. “As long as you’re going out every fifth day, I think that’s a step in the right directions and I think I’ve had two or three on four days’ rest. So I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of how I’m going to feel and what I need to do to recover and so far, so good. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but definitely you can always gain by pitching regardless of where it is.”
Showalter said the fact that Tillman was forced to stop his throwing progression in mid-March would allow him to not force him to make six starts. A minor league rehab window is able to last 30 days. He made his first rehab start on April 17, so he still has plenty of time. Tillman’s fastball velocity dipped noticeably Thursday, with most of his fastballs in the 86-88 mph range.
“I’d be fine with four if he felt real well,” Showalter said. “You try to keep in mind it’s been a while. It’s not a pure velocity thing with Chris either. He’s such a pitcher. And I think some things will tick up a little bit with the bells and whistles and lights being on. He said he felt like he made a great stride with his command. Chris is not paying attention to the velocity, and we’re not, at this point.”
Starter smoke screen for Monday and Tuesday
If Tillman doesn’t pitch for the Orioles on Tuesday in Boston, the club could use that opportunity to give right-hander Dylan Bundy an extra day off.
If Tillman isn’t available for Tuesday, Showalter could go with either left-hander Jayson Aquino or right-hander Alec Asher for that start. But he is also considering pitching his selection between Aquino and Asher on Monday and pushing Bundy back to Tuesday to give him additional rest.
“I could,” Showalter said. “Everything is in play. We do it all year long. Roger and I sit down after [Kevin] Gausman or [Ubaldo] Jimenez, [Wade] Miley’s work day, make a suggestion from what he’s seeing and hearing from them what’s the best way to proceed because we’re in a long period right now without any off-days.”
The Orioles have kept Bundy on turn through his first five starts of the season, in part by necessity because Tillman was unavailable. But this is the first sign that Bundy could be handled like he was in the second half of last season, when the Orioles tactfully plotted out an extra day of rest for him during his first full healthy season since 2012.
“We could [give him a day], like we will anybody; not just Dylan,” Showalter said. “We felt it was important to keep him on schedule coming out of the spring, especially with Tillman’s situation. Now that we’re into it a little bit and you have some bodies to look at a little bit, if there’s an adjustment to be made with any of them, we’ll do it.”
Bundy’s average fastball velocity has dipped incrementally in each start, from 92.99 mph in his first outing to 90.46 on Wednesday, in his most recent start. Bundy, who has quality starts in all five outings this season and owns a 1.65 ERA, didn’t express any concern about the lower velocity. But Showalter said it will be something the team will monitor moving forward.
Rickard returns from rehab
Ideally, the Orioles would have liked to have had outfielder Joey Rickard play at a higher level of competition and get more defensive attempts under his belt, but his three rehab games at Low-A Delmarva proved to be enough to activate him from the disabled list.
“Definitely, it’s good to get in there right away and get a game under my belt,” Rickard said.
Bad weather and cancellations for the Orioles minor league affiliates forced Rickard to open his rehab assignment on the Eastern Shore and stay there for three games.
Rickard was 3-for-10 with two runs scored in three games with the Shorebirds. He played just one game in the outfield and served as designated hitter in both ends of a doubleheader Wednesday.
“It’s just good to be out there again with my teammates and go out there and help contribute,” Rickard said.
Around the horn
Closer Zach Britton (left forearm strain) made his first minor league rehab appearance Friday, pitching two-thirds of an inning for Double-A Bowie, throwing 28 pitches. Britton entered the game in the top of the sixth and allowed a solo homer to Akron shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang and also walked two batters before leaving the game without pitching a complete inning. Britton could be activated from the disabled list as soon as Sunday, or he could make another rehab appearance on that day and return on Tuesday. … Wednesday’s Orioles win over the Tampa Bay Rays marked the 15th time in the team’s 64 years that a game ended with a walk-off walk. The previous one came when Ramon Hernandez drew a bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning on June, 26, 2007.