Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Monday that top starter Chris Tillman, who has spent the spring dealing with discomfort in his right shoulder and abandoned plans for a bullpen session Sunday due to soreness while he warmed up, will "back off it for a couple days and see how he responds."
With that, there becomes the possibility that he could have to reset his throwing program. If the brief rest period isn't effective, Showalter said the team is considering plenty of options — but not surgery.
"It could [start over] if he's got a long period of inaction," Showalter said. "But who knows? Two days from now, he could feel fine. But once you go down the injection thing, we might be able to gain a little ground on it, but I don't think anything that's going to put him as an option to start the season."
The slow trickle of information on how the Orioles will proceed with their longtime top starter and most trusted veteran pitcher has built pessimism about the prognosis, considering how well Tillman was said to have been progressing through the early stages of the rehab.
This weekend was supposed to be his third bullpen, which Showalter said would tell the team whether the aggressive but deliberately planned schedule to get him back by mid-April was realistic or not.
First, the bullpen was pushed back a day so an antibiotic Tillman was taking could get out of his system. In his second bullpen session Wednesday, Showalter said something was "not feeling completely normal," and the team hoped there was a connection to what Tillman was feeling and the possible side-effect of joint soreness.
Showalter said it would be out of his system by early Sunday morning, and when he began to warm up with a game of catch before the session Sunday, roughly 10 throws caused enough discomfort to call the whole thing off.
After Sunday's win in Fort Myers over the Twins, Showalter said he expected a course of action Monday. By Monday night, it became clear the team wasn't picking a path just yet, instead opting for a few days of inactivity.
"I know they're contemplating a couple of options if that doesn't go well," Showalter said. One of those options, he said, was a cortisone shot. Before Monday's game, however, he said surgery wasn't yet a possibility.
Recently, Showalter indicated it was the same issue that cost Tillman around three weeks in August and September last year, which was described at the time as shoulder bursitis. It cropped up again in the offseason, requiring a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection and delaying the start of his spring.
Through it all, Showalter said Tillman is handling it as well as can be expected.
"He's been pretty good," Showalter said. "He's still holding out hope that in a day or two it's fine, and I think he knows that it's kind of when, not if. I hope that's the case. But we'll see. We've got a pretty good feel for where he is structurally. He should be able to get through this."
Right-hander Kevin Gausman said the team is trying to take the news in stride. But having dealt with a shoulder issue of his own last spring, Gausman knows Tillman can't rush things.
"Obviously, we wish he was going to be starting Opening Day and coming out of the gate healthy," Gausman said. "But he's kind of done his part around here lately. It'll be good to kind of give him a break, essentially, and hopefully he comes back and feels even better than he did before. If he's able to do what he's done the last couple of years, I don't know if he's had that issue before but he's been able to do it in the past not 100 percent, then to get him back healthy is one of the keys for us.
"It sucks, but we've got a lot of good arms in this camp. A lot of young guys — a lot of guys who are kind of in limbo right now as to whether they're going to start and be a starter with us, be a long guy with us. We have a lot of guys who can kind of fill the void, and it helps us a little bit, the fact that we don't need a fifth starter until, I think mid-April. That's a good thing, but we're hoping that sooner rather than later."
Around the horn: Right-hander Joe Gunkel was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Monday, leaving the Orioles' camp roster at 51 players. Gunkel appeared in three games, allowing five earned runs on nine hits in four innings.