Orioles turn to Chris Tillman to help get rotation rested and back on track

8/19/2017 -- The Orioles celebrated playing 25 years at Camden Yards Saturday night, but lost to the Angels, 5-1. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)

Just over two weeks after being sent to the bullpen, Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman will have the opportunity to start again in Sunday's series finale against the Los Angeles Angels.

Tillman has pitched just two times since moving to a relief role, a 1 1/3-inning outing last Sunday in Oakland and a one-inning stint Wednesday afternoon in Seattle. Both outings were scoreless and Tillman has retired seven of the eight batters he faced working in relief.


Orioles manager Buck Showalter was coy about the likelihood of starting Tillman on Sunday, but he avoided needing the right-hander in Saturday's 5-1 loss to the Angels despite a 40-minute rain delay after the seventh inning.

Tillman has been working with pitching coach Roger McDowell to tweak some of his mechanics after posting an 8.10 ERA over his first 15 starts this year in a season that began with the veteran on the disabled list with a shoulder injury that lingered since last August.

The adjustments Tillman has made seem to be slight. It appears he's throwing more over the top after his arm slot appeared to be lower earlier this season, and his back step appears to be more deliberate than it used to me.

Asked whether he's confident Tillman has worked out his mechanical flaws, Showalter countered with, "How do you quantify confident?"

"I don't know," Showalter said. "The Angels will let us know that. But Chris has a really good pedigree of pitching good baseball for the Orioles and he's done the things that we asked him to do to get back. We need him to pitch well for us to get to where we want to go."

Showalter would like to use Tillman to help give his other starters added rest down the stretch. He's already allotting extra rest to right-hander Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a major league starter in an attempt to keep his inning total around the 180-inning mark. And Showalter said he's likely to give other rotation members – especially right-hander Kevin Gausman – some additional rest.

"He's been pitching well for us," Showalter said of Gausman after he allowed a career-high four homers in Saturday's loss to the Angels. "Tonight was a break from that. Kevin, he's one of the reasons we want to get Chris back into the mix. I think Kevin leads the American League in starts. As well as he's pitched for us the last month and a half, really almost two months, that's one of the things you see is the command a little bit. Stuff-wise, arm strength and velocity, he feels great. I think we have a chance to be a better pitching staff if we can get a little blow for some of our guys."

The rotation has shown signs of fatigue. Orioles starters have failed to get through five full innings in each of the past four games, posting a 10.70 ERA over that stretch.

Now, Tillman has the opportunity to help the Orioles rotation out of that funk, or he can add to the team's starting struggles.

"It's got the chance to give us a shot in the arm," Showalter said. "It may not happen tomorrow, it may happen. But he's done his part and the two outings have been better and his work day went well. But we'll see. I don't know if that's confident. This is a hard place to pitch. These are the best players in the world."