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Orioles

Orioles starter Chris Tillman 'always open' to possibility of contract extension

LAKELAND, Fla. — Since news broke in January that the Orioles were interested in discussing a long-term extension with Chris Tillman, the right-hander has kept his distance from the dialogue.

Tillman has told his agent, Dan Horwits, to contact him only when talks get serious, but he can't ignore reports that the Orioles are again reaching out about an extension.

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"I'm always open to it. I think I'm in the same position as I was when we were when we talked last time," Tillman said, referring to the initial talks in January. "I'm letting him do all the work. I hear about, read about it, but I told him not to come to me unless we've got something for sure. Same place we were last time we talked.

"I'm pretty much leaving it up to him right now. He's said a few things, but not to the point of where I really need to get involved. I do my homework and I know what's going on. To tell the truth, let them do what they need to do."

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Tillman, 26, would rather be concentrating on preparing for the upcoming season. He's the favorite to be the Orioles' Opening Day starter for the second straight year.

In Thursday's 6-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium, Tillman became the first Orioles starter to reach more than five innings this spring training, allowing two runs on five hits over 5 1/3 innings against one of the best lineups in the American League. He retired the final eight batters he faced, including four strikeouts in a five-hitter span.

"That's one reason we brought him over here," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of his exhibition game outing Thursday. "I couldn't imagine anything else Tilly could do to make us think he's ready to start the year. It's not that far away now. He will."

Tillman, who has a 1.99 ERA this spring over 14 1/3 innings — three of which came in an exhibition against a Puerto Rican developmental team), — said facing the Tigers proved to be a good spring challenge.

"Probably the best lineup you're going to see during the season," Tillman said. "They're deep, they squared up a lot of balls today and they also hit some soft balls, too. It was kind of mixed, kind of evened itself out both ways, and it was good to face a lineup like that, for sure.

"Early in the spring, you get through [the lineup] once, and they start making adjustments. And you got to adjust with them as you get deeper into the game."

The recent talks about a contract extension are only preliminary, according to an industry source. But Tillman did say after his outing Thursday that he'd likely table discussions once the regular season begins.

"I'd rather not" negotiate during the season, Tillman said. "I've been told we're not going to continue that into the season. We've got two weeks, for the most part. I don't know how long we have, but I don't think we would [continue after that], no."

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Tillman, who has a team-high 29 wins over the past two seasons, won't become a free agent until after the 2017 season.

He has blossomed into one of the team's top starting pitchers over the past 2 1/2 seasons. He was 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts last year and has pitched at least 200 innings in back-to-back seasons.

Tillman, who made $546,000 last season, will make $4.315 million this season in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

Only three Orioles players — center fielder Adam Jones, right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and shortstop J.J. Hardy — have deals through the 2017 season. Jones is signed through 2018, and the Orioles can exercise a $14 million option on Hardy for that season.

eencina@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EddieInTheYard


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