Chris Tillman’s tenure in the Orioles’ organization — a stretch that spanned 11 seasons — ended Wednesday when the team gave Tillman his unconditional release after he declined the club’s offer to pitch at Triple-A Norfolk.
The Orioles designated Tillman for assignment Friday when his minor league rehabilitation assignment expired. At that point, the Orioles had 10 days to trade, release or waive him. The club offered him an opportunity to pitch in Triple-A, but Tillman declined the offer Wednesday, and the Orioles released him, making Tillman a free agent.
“I was hopeful he would come back with us, but I understand why he didn’t,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “There’s a chance somebody can still sign him. I don’t know if Chris is going to o home and just kind of start clean all over. It’s his call now. I still think he’s got the potential to be a solid starter again.”
From 2013 to 2016, Tillman was the Orioles’ most reliable starter, averaging 32 starts, 14 wins, 190 innings and a 3.91 ERA with a 56-30 record. But after going on the disabled list with a shoulder injury toward the end of the 2016 season, his performance dipped.
Since the beginning of 2017, Tillman is 2-12 with an 8.42 ERA in 32 games (26 starts). He went 1-5 with a 10.46 ERA in seven big league starts before going on the disabled list with a lower back strain.
“There’s some things that he’s got to get over, so speak, a hump that he’s got to get over,” Showalter said. “I would not count him short. But I understand his thinking and his reasoning. I’m sure he and his family talked about it a lot, and your paths have a way of crossing again. We wish him well. He’s done a lot of great things here, very much like the two guys we lost.”
The move marks the end of the tenure of another key member of the Orioles’ recent resurgence, as the team continues to turn its focus to its rebuild.
He was part of the trade that best set up the Orioles’ core for their stretch of three playoff berths over five seasons. He was acquired in a 5-for-1 deal with the Mariners that included center fielder Adam Jones and sent left-hander Erik Bedard to Seattle before the 2008 season.
This year, the Orioles were convinced by watching Tillman’s offseason throwing sessions in Sarasota, Fla., that he was worth re-signing, giving him a $3 million major league deal in February.
But Tillman averaged less than four innings a start in his seven appearances this season. He had more walks (17) than strikeouts (13), and opponents hit .365 against him.
After a pair of outings in which he didn’t get out of the second inning, Tillman went on the disabled list with a lower back strain, an injury he said he suffered while dodging a foul ball in the Orioles dugout and attempted to pitch through in his last two major league starts.
Tillman sat out for nearly six weeks, then began his minor league rehab assignment. In six starts, he had a 6.75 ERA and opponents batted .333 against him.