You can’t judge Chris Tillman on one start, and even though his regular-season debut Monday night bore more signs of last year’s disaster of a season than the previous four in which Tillman was the unit’s anchor, the Orioles right-hander said he’s still in a much better place than he ever was last season.
“Oh, yeah,” Tillman said. “It’s much different. I didn’t have anything last year. I have quite a bit. Tonight didn’t go as I planned or as we planned, but going forward I think it’s going to get better.”
Tillman didn’t have much to show for it Monday. He lasted just one batter into the fifth inning in the Orioles’ 6-1 loss to the Houston Astros. He allowed four runs — three in a fourth inning that included three hits that came off the bat at 95 mph or faster.
The Orioles offense wasn’t void of blame. The Orioles scored just one run — Trey Mancini’s homer to open the top of the ninth off Collin McHugh — and before that had gone 17 straight innings without scoring.
Over the past three games, the Orioles have been outscored 19-3.
Tillman battled with his control. He walked four batters — and even though none of those four base runners scored — his pitches were all over the place. Tillman threw just eight of 23 first-pitch strikes.
“Just command,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He wasn’t really as crisp as he was in the spring, but you know he settled in there for a few sequences but nothing consistent like we know he’s capable of. Everything gets magnified when you’re not swinging the bats and the other team is pitching well. I pushed him a little bit trying to get through the fifth. We’ve had two or three short starts already counting tonight and it kind of puts a taxation on your bullpen, especially with the two Rule 5 [draft] guys. We just need to get deeper in the game.”
The Astros didn’t miss many pitches that Tillman threw in the strike zone, particularly his fastball. Tillman recorded just two swing-and-misses in his 84-pitch outing.
“The off-speed stuff was good,” Tillman said. “Fastball was hit or miss. When I hit on it, I got the right result. When I missed, it got hit hard.”
Tillman recovered from what could have been a disastrous first inning after falling behind 1-0 four pitches into the game when George Springer and Alex Bregman opened with back-to-back doubles.
After a wild pitch, shortstop Manny Machado made a savvy play on José Altuve’s grounder, catching Bregman off third to erase the lead runner, a play that helped Tillman escape further damage in the opening inning.
Tillman retired the Astros in order on eight pitches in the third but couldn’t build on that in the following inning.
In the fourth, Tillman hung a 3-1 four-seam fastball that Marwin González took over the right-field fence. Two batters later, Brian McCann just missed a home run that hit off the top of Minute Maid Park’s high left-field fence and settled for a long single. Derek Fisher then tagged a 0-1 changeup into the right-center-field gap to score McCann. Springer’s RBI single made it 4-0.
“I think it slowed down a little bit,” Tillman said. “I let the game dictate that. Got to get back on the horse and get back after it. They get a leadoff homer. That’s not going to hurt you. Especially with no one on. Just got to get back after it and that inning kind of snowballed.”
Said Showalter: “He had that inning and you thought he might find his way and give us five there, but he just couldn’t continue to repeat a delivery, and that was something he was doing a lot better job of the in spring. But we only saw it in a short glimpse tonight.”
Since Dylan Bundy’s seven shutout innings Opening Day, Orioles starters haven’t gone beyond five outings in any of the past three games. Kevin Gausman and Tillman failed to record an out in the fifth.
Over the past three games, Orioles starters have allowed 15 runs in 13 innings.
“I think it’s important [to get deeper in games],” Tillman said. “You know, Dylan was able to go out there and have a good start. I felt like [Andrew] Cashner [on Saturday] was a lot better than what was the final result. Got to keep working, keep building and move on to the next one. You can’t dwell on what is going on now. I guarantee you’ll see us show up tomorrow ready to play baseball. We’re not going to moan and groan about it. We’ve got to get better and we know it.”