First, there’s the curious case of Chris Tillman, whose first-inning struggles have put him at a competitive disadvantage. The Orioles right-hander has always been prone to the occasional short start, and it’s not new that it occasionally takes a while for him to find his footing in the first inning. But since returning from the disabled list, his first-inning struggled have reached a new level.
Then there’s a bullpen that’s hanging together by a thread. Over the first two nights in the Bronx, the relievers haven’t been able to stop the bleeding, whether it’s keeping a one-run game close in the seventh or halting the onslaught after going down 9-0. And their ability to do that has forced the bullpen into a new level of overwork while late-inning relievers like Brad Brach and Mychal Givens could only watch because there’s not point using them in a rout.
And overshadowed by the pitching problems is an unsteady offense that simply disappears for too long. Now, coming back from a nine-run second-inning deficit is an unenviable task. But these Orioles – the same ones that seemed to be a bunch of world beaters late in games earlier this season – have now built up a disturbing trend of putting up too many goose eggs through the middle and late innings.
Yankees right-hander Luis Severino has been good, but the Orioles made him look better, managing just two hits against him over seven innings. After Saturday’s game, Showalter was quick to give Severino credit.
“He’s got maybe now the fourth-best ERA in the American League, which means he’d be leading the National League, so he’s a good pitcher. Really good,” Showalter said. “And that’s why they’re having a good year. But I’m not going to fault our guys, especially when you get down. It blows a lot of air out of your sails.”
As for Tillman, he took the blame on himself, saying he felt good early on and established his fastball well in retiring the first two hitters before allowing the next six to reach base. Tillman said he tried to turn to his breaking ball when he didn’t need to, and the six-run inning snowballed quickly. It started with a poorly placed changeup that Aaron Judge sent into the left-field stands for his major league-lea 19th homer of the season.
Tillman then allowed a single to Matt Holliday on a curveball, and sliders to Starlin Castro and Gary Sanchez netted the Yankees a double and two-run single, respectively. Didi Gregorius’ two-run homer came on a fastball, but Chris Carter’s RBI single was also on a slider – giving the Yankees five of six hits on off-speed pitches.
“I wasn’t trying to slow anything down,” Tillman said. “The more I was trying to make a pitch, I felt like just kept missing too much plate. I kept trying to throw strikes, getting ahead, and you’re missing right over the heart of the plate and that’s a good team. They put a lot of good swings on some bad pitches.”
Showalter, reaching for positives in the loss, noted left-hander Richard Bleier’s two scoreless innings Saturday. But other than that, the Orioles bullpen allowed seven runs over 4 2/3 innings. Both Stefan Crichton and Mike Wright allowed home runs.
“Guys who pitched well, I’d like to keep them,” Showalter said. “That’s what you’re doing. And I was trying to maneuver around where Mike could stay away from a long outing, but he got into a deep pitch count there, too. I haven’t heard anything from anybody yet, so hopefully I will.”