Now that the Orioles acquired a sixth starting pitcher in their trade deadline deal for Jeremy Hellickson, the team's suddenly striving starting rotation is a crowded one. And even though manager Buck Showalter has said that each member isn't competing for the right to remain among the starting five, right-hander Chris Tillman might be pitching his way out of it.
Tillman suffered through his second straight ugly outing in Thursday night's 7-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards, again raising concerns over what has led a pitcher who won 16 games last year to labor so regularly.
"Yeah, it's killing me right now," Tillman said. "It really is. But you can't dwell on that. You've got to take the positives and run with it. I saw a lot tonight, I know the scoreboard won't show it and most people won't see it, but there were a lot of good things that happened tonight. And if you're going to take anything good away from this, that was a pretty horrible start and we almost came back and won that game."
The loss snapped the Orioles' five-game winning streak as they fell to 53-55 and slipped to 3½ games out of the second wild-card spot.
After serving as the rock of the Orioles starting rotation for the past four seasons, Tillman (1-7) hasn't been the same pitcher this year. He missed the first month with a shoulder injury that dated to late last season, and since then, he has an 8.10 ERA in 15 starts. He has just three quality starts, and in his past two starts, he allowed 13 earned runs over 6 1/3 innings.
On Thursday, Tillman struggled to find the strike zone, especially with his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, forcing him to mostly abandon his curveball and changeup. The back-to-back walks he issued in the third opened the gates for a five-run inning he wouldn't survive.
"Command," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said when asked about Tillman's struggles Thursday. "He came out there after the short rain delay, or long, or about medium I guess, got a quick out and went out and put up a zero after that and command just wasn't there. You keep waiting for him. It's tough because you've got a guy who's really got a track record of pitching well for us over an extended period of time and he's just not doing it right now."
Tillman allowed a pair of solo homers within the first three batters of the game, before the skies opened with two outs and forced a 59-minute rain delay. When Tillman returned after the delay, he struggled even more.
Tillman failed to get an out in the third inning, and nine of the 13 batters he faced reach base. He yielded seven runs (five earned) on six hits and two walks.
Before the second rain delay of the night — the start of Thursday's game was delayed 43 minutes by storms — Tillman fell behind 2-0, allowing a leadoff homer to Ian Kinsler and then gave up Justin Upton's mammoth shot to straightaway center.
Tillman was coming off one of his worst outings of the season, allowing eight runs on nine hits over 4 1/3 innings last Friday in Texas. He fell into trouble early again, leaving a 1-2 fastball over the plate that Kinsler turned on for his 10th homer of the season. Tillman then left a 1-1 slider that didn't break and Upton launched it an estimated 452 feet, hitting off the base of the batter's eye beyond the center-field fence.
Tillman put the first two batters on base in the second, but benefited from a rare 5-4-3 triple play to escape that inning. But he wouldn't get out of the third.
"It just kinda sped up real quick," Tillman said. "Those plays normally change the momentum for you. It didn't happen tonight."
Tillman loaded the bases, allowing a single to José Iglesias before walking Kinsler and Jim Adduci. He induced a potential double-play ball from Upton that would have limited the damage, but the grounder went between new shortstop Tim Beckham's legs into left field, allowing two runs to score. Miguel Cabrera's ensuing two-run double chased Tillman from the game to a smattering of boos from the Camden Yards crowd.
"I think execution for me," Tillman said. "Going back and watching it with some guys, I think that game comes down to those two walks there. Back to back walks. You've got those two outs there, get the guys back to the plate and it's a different story. But those back-to-back walks killed me. Some below-average pitches."
Orioles turn triple play
Tillman received the ultimate gift from his defense in the second inning, getting out of trouble with the help of the 5-4-3 triple play.
He put the first two batters on base — Victor Martinez doubled and Mikie Mahtook reached on an infield single — but Tillman induced a ground ball to third from catcher James McCann.
Third baseman Manny Machado touched third for the force play there, threw to Jonathan Schoop at second base and Schoop threw to first to get the slow-footed McCann to complete the triple play.
It was the Orioles' second triple play of the season and 14th all time. They turned a 6-4-3 triple play on May 2 in Boston. It marks just the second time in club history — and first since 1973 — that the Orioles converted two triple plays in one season.
Schoop adds to RBI count
Schoop's third-inning RBI double off Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd gave him 79 RBIs on the season, putting him just one behind American League leader and former Oriole Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners.
Schoop went the opposite way on a ball that Adduci couldn't come up with in right field, allowing Adam Jones to score from first base.
With the RBI, Schoop had 25 RBIs in his past 17 games.
Through six innings, the Orioles scored their other runs on sacrifice flies by Machado and Welington Castillo.
Beckham hits first Orioles homer
Beckham, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays at the nonwaiver trade deadline Monday, capped a three-hit night with his first home run with his new team, a solo homer off right-hander Edward Mujica in the eighth inning.
He took an 0-2 four-seam fastball the opposite way just over the scoreboard in right field for his 13th homer of the season to cut the Tigers' lead to 7-5.
Beckham has multiple hits in all three of his games with the Orioles and is 7-for-12 with three doubles, a triple and a homer since coming to Baltimore.
Castro provides length
Right-hander Miguel Castro saved the Orioles bullpen after Tillman's early exit, throwing a career-high six scoreless innings of relief.
Castro allowed one inherited base runner to score in the third inning, but allowed just one hit and issued one walk otherwise.
Castro's longest outing before Thursday was a 3 1/3-inning outing on July 15 against the Chicago Cubs. But he was well-rested entering Thursday, throwing just one-third of an inning over the previous eight days.