Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman hasn’t quite been the same since returning from the disabled list this season, and in some ways since shoulder problems first crept up last August, with slow starts constantly crippling his ability to get deep into games.
On Saturday night in the Bronx, his struggles hit a new low against against the New York Yankees as Tillman allowed a career-high nine runs, gave up three homers and was able to record just four outs before he was pulled by manager Buck Showalter in the second inning.
Tillman left the game with the Orioles trailing by nine runs, setting the stage for their worst loss of the season, a humiliating 16-3 defeat at Yankee Stadium.
The 13-run margin of defeat marked the Orioles' worst blowout loss since a 15-2 loss to Toronto on Sept. 30, 2015. The 16 runs were the most allowed by the Orioles since a 19-6 loss at Minnesota on July 16, 2012.
Saturday marked Tillman’s shortest start in more than three years, when he lasted just one inning on June 5, 2014 against the Texas Rangers. He also lasted 1 1/3 on June 21, 2015.
The Orioles (31-29), who gave up 18 hits, have now lost three in a row and have been outscored 30-6 during that skid.
The most glaring part of Tillman’s recent struggles are his first-inning problems. The Yankees (36-23) scored six runs off Tillman (1-4) in the first inning Saturday, all with two outs in the frame, ambushing him early in the count.
After retiring the first two batters he faced, it began to spiral on Tillman three batters into the first with Aaron Judge’s solo homer to left, his major league-leading 19th of the season — off a 1-0 changeup.
Tillman allowed the next six batters to reach base, with two runs scoring on Gary Sanchez’s two-run single, which was immediately followed by Didi Gregorius’ two-run homer. No. 9 hitter Chris Carter also added an RBI single.
"Bad execution, real poor execution," Tillman said. "It felt like we got two quick outs and we were in such a hurry to get the breaking stuff going that it kind of snowballed real quick. It was bad execution."
Five of the six hits off Tillman in the first inning came on the first or second pitch of the at-bat.
Tillman’s first-inning ERA this season is 16.71 (13 earned runs in seven innings) — all of those runs have come in his past four starts — and opponents are batting .444 (16-for-36) against him in the opening frame.
Tillman said he didn't have to search for his pitches while warming up or even as he retired the first two hitters. But after abandoning the fastball to establish his breaking pitches, he quickly lost control.
"I felt good," Tillman said. "I really didn’t have to search for anything that first inning. I think I found everything in my bullpen. All my pitches I felt like I could have gone to at any point. It was just trying to get too far ahead and trying to get that breaking stuff going so early when you get two quick outs. Pitching stupid."
After issuing back-to-back walks with one out in the second, Tillman allowed a three-run homer to Starlin Castro and was then pulled from the game.
“He came out and threw some quality fastball strikes first hitter or two and I thought that’s really a good sign, but they’re good hitters and they make you pay for the mistakes," Showalter said. "He made a lot of them and we made a lot of them tonight. It just wasn’t good.”
Tillman’s season ERA is now 8.01, a mark that balloons to 12.60 over his past four starts. Also, after not allowing a home run in his first four starts, he has allowed seven over his past three, including a pair of three-homer games.
Judge with a harsh ruling: Judge’s first-inning homer, a rocket into the left-field stands, was hit with an exit velocity of 121.1 mph, according to Statcast, making it the hardest-hit ball this season.
The Yankees rookie now has hit each of the four hardest-hit balls this season, including a 119.4 mph home run he hit off Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman on April 28 at Yankee Stadium.
Orioles looking for arm: Since the bullpen had to account for 6 2/3 innings Saturday, the Orioles might have to add a fresh reliever for Sunday’s game.
It won’t be easy because of the early turnaround, but right-hander Stefan Crichton threw 44 pitches pitching for a second straight day.
Crichton allowed three runs — all of those coming on Matt Holliday’s fourth-inning homer — over two innings. Over the past two nights, Crichton has allowed five runs over 3 1/3 innings.
Right-hander Edwin Jackson allowed two runs in 1 2/3 innings and right-hander Mike Wright surrendered a two-run homer to Sanchez in the eighth.
Severino locks up Orioles: The Orioles managed just one hit in their first six innings against Yankees right-hander Luis Severino.
Severino did not allow a hit until rookie Trey Mancini’s one-out single in the fifth. He retired the first 12 batters he faced and didn’t allow a base runner until he issued a leadoff walk to Mark Trumbo in the fifth.
“I was aware of that," Mancini said about not having a hit going into the fifth. "But I wasn’t really thinking about that when I was up. Against him, he throws everything hard so you just have to maybe cut your swing down a little bit, kind of opposite field, and let your hands take over. I think that’s the way to approach it.”
The Orioles’ only run off Severino came on Chris Davis’ solo homer run in the seventh inning, his team-high 14th of the season.
Those were the only two hits that the Orioles recorded against Severino over seven innings. Mainly relying on his four-seam fastball and slider, Severino struck out eight.
The Orioles' only other runs were on a solo shot by Joey Rickard in the eighth and an RBI single by Caleb Joseph in the ninth.
Mancini and Hardy have close call: Mancini and shortstop J.J. Hardy collided on a fly ball into shallow left field off the bat of Aaron Hicks in the fifth inning.
As the two converged, Mancini slid as Hardy jumped over him, the ball popping out of his glove as he lost balance and fell awkwardly.
“I was playing a little more in the gap on that one, but I went low, and he went high," Mancini said. "That’s what we’re supposed to do. I kind of like took him out a little bit, slid into him and then we collided there. I think if I was playing more like straight up, then I might have been able get there and catch it. In hindsight, it could have been worse as far as a collision goes.”
Hardy left the game in the bottom of the sixth, but Showalter said Hardy was fine after the play. He also took center fielder Adam Jones out with Yankees well ahead.