Chris Tillman had six days off to think about his disastrous start at Toronto. Finally, Sunday night — after his Saturday start was rained out — Tillman took the mound with a chance to put his shortest outing of the season behind him.
Tillman pitched seven innings, matching his longest outing in 2015, while allowing just four hits and striking out six in the Orioles’ 8-0 win.
“Tilly was pretty hungry,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He's always hungry, but you could tell he was on a little mission there tonight. He was real crisp.”
It’s been a tough year for Tillman. He was the Orioles’ ace last season with a 3.34 ERA over 34 starts. Through his first 14 starts in 2015, the right-hander had an ERA of 6.22, the second worst among all eligible majro league pitchers entering Sunday.
A lot of the 27-year-old’s struggles this season can be attributed to his inability to throw strikes at times. He had walked at least three batters in nine of his 14 outings prior to facing the Indians and had allowed an average of 4.5 walks per nine innings.
On Sunday, though, Tillman threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of the 23 batters he faced and did not issue a walk. It was the first time this season he pitched more than two innings and did not walk a batter.
“I was able to command the fastball and make some good pitches early on,” Tillman said. “That's key to getting deep in a ballgame.”
Tillman’s strikeouts have been down this season, too, but he got timely punch outs when he needed them. When Roberto Perez lined a one-out double in third after the Orioles had claimed a 2-0 lead in the previous inning, Tillman struck out the top two hitters in the Indians’ lineup for the second time.
And after the Orioles blew the game open with a six-run fourth inning, Tillman retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced. Last time out, the Orioles gave him a seven-run cushion with a huge second inning, but he gave nearly all of it back when he allowed six runs in the bottom half of the inning.
“I wasn't capable of doing that last time,” Tillman said of not having a shutdown inning in Toronto. “It was good to be able to do it this time.”
The Indians didn’t advance a runner past second base with Tillman on the hill, and he didn’t allow more than one base runner in any inning. It was a step toward the Tillman the Orioles expected to see in 2015.
“Sometimes we live in a what-have-you-done-for-me lately world and nobody understands that more than him,” Showalter said. “He takes it personal. He wants to be one of those guys we can depend on and throw 200 innings.”