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Orioles' Showalter on urgency to use Tillman in relief: 'We're trying to win baseball games'

Veteran right-hander Chris Tillman hasn't pitched in his new bullpen role, not taking the mound since his most recent start on Aug. 3 — now over a week ago. He threw a few pitches off the mound during batting practice to stay ready, but manager Buck Showalter said there's no real urgency to get him into a game.

"We're trying to win baseball games, every night," Showalter said. "If him pitching helps us with that, we'll do that. It's that time of year. It's always that time of year. So, if Chris has an element that we're in need of that given night, he'll pitch."

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For Tillman, that element would be multiple innings. With Tillman available as a right-handed long reliever, Showalter has felt free to use 22-year-old right-hander Miguel Castro in shorter situations. Castro faced one batter Tuesday before giving Showalter two innings of relief Wednesday.

But just as with starter-turned-reliever Ubaldo Jiménez both this year and last, there's no real ideal time to bring Tillman into a game. Tillman hasn't pitched in relief in the majors before, and while he told Showalter he could get warmed up faster than is the expectation for a starter with a pretty lengthy pre-start routine, that's a major unknown. So is how Tillman would react to possibly getting warmed up without coming into a game, and how that would impact his availability going forward.

Still, Tillman went to the bullpen in good spirits, believing he'd figured out what had caused him to post an 8.10 ERA in 15 starts this season after returning from a shoulder injury in early May. The problem now is getting a chance to prove that he can pitch in relief in a game.

That the Orioles haven't needed a long reliever of late is the good kind of problem for Showalter, though. Since Tillman went two-plus innings in his last start, and Castro had to pitch six innings behind him, the Orioles have had just one starter fail to pitch into the sixth inning, and none in the past full turn through the rotation.

With Kevin Gausman's second straight second-half surge under way, better results from Dylan Bundy, plus a run of consistent starts from both Wade Miley and Jiménez in the past few weeks, the Orioles rotation has turned a corner since the club traded for Jeremy Hellickson on July 28, after a tough start from Tillman. Since that game, the rotation has a 2.44 ERA.

Showalter, on a day when the team's lineup changes were all the rage, said the team's starting pitching staff was most important to the Orioles' success going forward — not the batting order. And before it's all said and done, he sees Tillman being part of that once again.

"Like I said, I think he'll start and we'll have a need for him starting again," Showalter said.

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