The Orioles had just been swept out of Anaheim after their most lopsided loss of the season Thursday night when Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman was asked about the security of his rotation spot following his shortest start of the season.
Tillman — with the same moxie that benefited him in anchoring the Orioles rotation during better days — only looked forward, saying he couldn’t dwell on his struggles this season.
“Can’t think about it,” Tillman said. “I’ve got to move forward and try to get better. If you start thinking about that kind of stuff, you will not get very far. So move on and get better for the next one and come out and win a ballgame.”
Asked whether Tillman’s standing could be in jeopardy after he failed to record an out in the second inning and allowed eight of the 11 batters he faced reach base, manager Buck Showalter wouldn’t divulge where he stood.
“Obviously, this is a competitive place for all of us,” Showalter said. “You have to be good at what you do and we all know what’s at stake. Nobody knows that more than Chris. But I’m certainly not going to have Chris reading about his manager [saying anything about that]. It’s tough because you’re pulling hard for him like all your pitchers because you know what he’s capable of and how much it means to him. We’re in that [area] where you can almost care too much. Chris is just not wired like that.”
Tillman’s season ERA rose to 9.24, and opponents are hitting 345 against him. He’s allowed four or more runs in five of his six starts, and has gone more than five innings in just one start.
Tillman — who appeared to make tremendous strides in his previous start, a seven-inning scoreless outing in which he allowed just one hit against the Detroit Tigers — allowed seven runs Thursday night, putting the Orioles in an early hole they couldn’t emerge from. After commanding all four of his pitches and keeping them down in the zone in his last start, Tillman made several mistakes up in the zone, and the Angels feasted on those pitches.
The Angels batted around in the first inning against Tillman, scoring five runs by spraying the Angel Stadium outfield with two doubles, a triple and two singles. The Angels drew hard contact on Tillman often, recording exit velocities of 102 mph or higher on five of the eight balls they put into play. In the first inning, three run-scoring hits came on two-strike counts against Tillman.
“I think it’s a short gap,” Tillman said. “I’m not far removed from good execution. I think you know anytime you are able to [put] yourself in an advantageous count you give yourself a chance to get some outs quick. That’s a good thing. But when you are not executing you gotta go back to the drawing board and find a way to be consistent with it and put guys away when you have the opportunity.”
Tillman’s outing began with a four-pitch walk to Ian Kinsler and quickly unraveled from there. He lost an 0-2 count to Mike Trout when he left a 2-2 fastball up and out that Trout hit for a triple. Trout missed an opposite-field homer by just a few feet, hitting a ball off the right-field wall that Anthony Santander couldn’t corral.
Justin Upton followed with a double down the left-field line on a 2-0 slider to put the Angels up 2-0 just three batters into the game.
Two batters later, Shohei Ohtani scored Upton with a hard-hit single to right on a changeup, and Andrelton Simmons doubled him home on a 1-2 hanging slider. Luis Valbuena then put the Angels up 5-0 on an RBI single to right on a 1-2 fastball.
Tillman lasted just two batters into the second inning after Kinsler opened the frame with a double and scored on a single by Trout. Right-handed reliever Miguel Castro, pushed into his earliest action this season, then allowed a single by Upton and a two-run double by Albert Pujols, putting Pujols one hit away from 3,000 in his career, to give the Angels an 8-0 lead.
With Thursday’s loss, the Orioles (8-23) own the worst record in the American League and the second worst in the major leagues.
“It’s not fun,” said Tillman, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract during spring training after struggling to a 7.84 ERA in 2017. “It’s not fun. But I know the work that is going in. I see it day in and day out. You know what, that is all you can really ask from the guys. Put the work in and show up ready to play. I’m not seeing anything otherwise. It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for everyone. But keeping going and play better.”
Booting Tillman out of the rotation would be an easier decision if there were an obvious replacement in the minor leagues, but on Thursday night top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey allowed four runs in four innings in his start for Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk right-hander David Hess was tagged for five runs in five innings.