ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – As is his laid-back Southern Californian nature, Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman has tried to avoid having the spotlight shine on him.
In his start on Tuesday, however, Tillman has a chance to reach a milestone that few Orioles hurlers have touched in the last decade-plus.
Tillman has thrown 194 1/3 innings this year and needs just 5 2/3 innings to reach 200 for the season, which would make him the fifth Orioles pitcher to hit that total since 2001. He would join Jeremy Guthrie (2009, 2010 and 2011), Daniel Cabrera (2007), Rodrigo Lopez (2005) and Sidney Ponson (2004).
"I think it is cool. It's kind of a big deal, I guess," said Tillman, whose previous big league career-high for a season was 86 innings last year. "Nowadays, not that many people do it. As of right now, I just haven't thought about it much."
If Tillman reaches 200, he'll become the first Orioles pitcher 25 years old or younger to reach 200 innings since Ponson, who was 22 when he pitched 210 innings in 1999. Tillman (16-7) would also be just the fourth Oriole in the last 35 years to win at least 16 games and throw 200 innings in a season at age 25 or younger, according to baseball-reference.com.
That combination has occurred 15 other times in modern franchise history, but only three times since 1978: Mike Mussina (18 wins at age 23 in 1992), Jeff Ballard (18 wins at 25 in 1989) and Dennis Martinez (16 wins at 24 in 1978).
"I think the [200 innings] statistic snuck up on some people, but how well he's pitching didn't, and how well he's capable of it," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "I think about quality. Some guys get 200 innings just from showing up. Certain statistics you can accumulate in the major leagues just by playing every day or pitching every fifth day. But Tilly, you can see it in his face. I think he feels good that people feel good about him."
Growing up, Tillman said pitching 200 innings in a season was a goal. But now that he is on the doorstep of it, his focus has changed.
"I think when I was younger, I used to say I wanted to pitch 200 innings in the majors," Tillman said, "But now my goal is to be there every start, to be a guy your team can count on and get through the season healthy."
He had a bit of a scare in the second inning on Thursday in Fenway Park when Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubled down the right field line. Tillman — covering third base because his defense had shifted right — was back-pedaling when he caught the side of the third base bag and rolled his ankle.
He stayed in the game, but felt sore afterward and there was a question whether he would take his next turn in the rotation.
Tillman completed his regular work day Sunday and said he'd be fine to make Tuesday's start, which could be his last of this season. He is scheduled for one more after that — the season finale on Sunday at Camden Yards — but Showalter doesn't want Tillman to push his career-high innings count too high. If the game has no playoff ramifications, Showalter could give the ball to someone else.
Tillman said he'll do whatever is asked.
"There's a point where I think the decision making is up to them, and if they think something is better for the team, if they want to see something from someone else, then go for it," Tillman said. "Whatever is going to help us get where we want to be in the long run, I'm up for it."
Josh Stinson, who was recalled at the beginning of the month when rosters were expanded, has done more than enough to put himself on the club's radar for next season.
The 25-year-old right-hander has not allowed a hit in six appearances this month, a span of seven innings in which he has walked one batter and struck out seven.
On Monday, he set down all five batters he faced and has retired 17 walking New York's Alex Rodriguez in the top of the seventh on Sept. 12.
Claimed off waivers from the Oakland A's in April, Stinson has had eight scoreless relief appearances for the Orioles and one start, in which he gave up five runs in 5 2/3 innings to the Toronto Blue Jays on April 24.
The Orioles finished their 19-game season series against the Tampa Bay Rays with a record of 6-13, their worst against any American League East team this season. It's also the Orioles' second-worst mark in their history against the Rays; the Orioles lost 15 of 18 to Tampa Bay in 2008.
The Orioles won four of the clubs' first six meetings in 2013 — including capturing two of three in the season-opening series at Tropicana Field from April 2 to April 4. But they dropped 11 of their final 13 against the Rays.
Around the horn
Right-hander Bud Norris (elbow tightness) said he is "good to go" for Wednesday's start. … Tampa Bay right-hander Alex Cobb, who limited the Orioles to five hits and one run on Saturday, was named American League Player of the Week. In addition to striking out 12 Orioles in 8 1/3 innings Saturday, he also allowed just two runs in eight innings while striking out 10 Texas Rangers on Sept. 16. He won both games. … The Orioles road record for 2013 finishes up at 39-42. They have six games remaining this season – all at Camden Yards.