SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman will make his spring training debut Tuesday in a road game against the Toronto Blue Jays, a decision made necessary by his need for innings after a hip strain but contrary to manager Buck Showalter's previous desire to keep his starters away from division opponents.
Traditionally, Showalter went to great lengths to keep his starting pitchers off the mound against the teams they would face often during the season. They'd pitch in minor league games, simulated games or B games instead.
But Showalter said Tillman, who pitched two scoreless innings in a B game but was out of game action for nearly two weeks because of a hip flexor strain, has more to gain from facing a Blue Jays lineup that has been a pain to him in recent years than in any other available circumstance.
"I think it's important that Chris faces as good of competition as he can," Showalter said before Saturday's game with the Minnesota Twins.
"I've just about come full circle on that — this guy, you don't want them to see that guy, you don't want them to see this guy. What's he got to lose pitching against Toronto? … He can only pitch in so many B games and intrasquad and simulated games, Single-A. Our Triple-A team that day is going on the road to Port Charlotte and there's two [Single-A] clubs over there [at Twin Lakes Park]. That's not what he needs to be exposed to."
That the start comes against a Blue Jays team that will likely field a strong lineup and has traditionally hit Tillman hard adds an interesting dynamic to the debut.
Last season, Tillman faced Toronto six times, going 0-4 with an 11.72 ERA and allowing 10 home runs in 25 1/3 innings with a 2.013 WHIP. The Blue Jays beat Tillman three times in four starts in 2014, and he posted a 4.73 ERA against them in 26 2/3 innings that year. On his career, Tillman is 4-10 with a 5.79 ERA in 20 starts against Toronto.
Tillman pitches a day after right-hander Yovani Gallardo makes his debut in front of the home fans at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, with Showalter announcing he would start against the Philadelphia Phillies at 1:05 p.m. Monday. Gallardo debuted in an Orioles uniform with two innings against the Phillies in Clearwater on Wednesday, allowing three runs on four hits in two innings. Right-hander Kevin Gausman, who followed Tillman in the B game Thursday, will start on Wednesday in Sarasota against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Showalter hasn't announced the Opening Day starter or early season rotation yet, but those three lining up in order, along with the fact that Saturday's starter Ubaldo Jimenez is facing the Minnesota Twins for a second time, might shed some light on the rotation. The Orioles face Minnesota in a three-game series to open the season.
New Orioles infielder Pedro Alvarez will suit up in an Orioles uniform for the first time Sunday in Fort Myers against the Minnesota Twins, Showalter said.
"Most of our guys had three or four days of the offensive work before they played in the intrasquad game, and today is Pedro's third day," Showalter said. "He's running the bases some in spikes, trying to kind of cram-course a lot of the stuff other guys have been exposed to."
Alvarez has spent the past few days working on infield plays and positioning, taking batting practice, and getting acclimated to his new surroundings.
First baseman Trey Mancini, catchers Chance Sisco and Jonah Heim, infielder Ozzie Martinez, and pitchers Cesar Cabral, Andy Oliver, and Ashur Tolliver were cut from major league camp Saturday as part of the first roster culling.
Cuts will continue Sunday, with three or four more players to be sent to minor league camp by Monday. Minor league games begin Wednesday.
Around the horn
Showalter said Yovani Gallardo will make his home spring training debut Monday against the Philadelphia Phillies, and Kevin Gausman will pitch Wednesday in Sarasota. … Senator Ben Cardin made his annual visit to spring training on a fundraising tour Saturday. Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak was also at the game. … Left-hander T.J. McFarland, who experienced elbow soreness and left his last appearance on March 6 against the Boston Red Sox, will throw a "touch-and-feel" bullpen session Sunday, Showalter said. Fellow left-hander Brian Matusz (back) will soon follow. … Showalter said left-hander Chris Lee, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning Saturday, was impressive. "Boy, he's got a good arm," Showalter said.