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Orioles' Chris Tillman hopes bullpen move has him 'heading in the right direction'

Veteran Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman heads to the bullpen after a miserable 15-start stretch that left him with an 8.10 ERA confident that the All-Star caliber pitcher who led this team's rotation for most of this decade isn't gone forever.

"It's not easy," Tillman said Sunday, ahead of his first day of bullpen availability in his major league career. "I've never seen myself in that spot, but you know what? I haven't been pitching well enough and I understand it. I'm not mad. I just need to get better.

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"I'm not going to go down there and mope around. I'm going down there for one reason and one reason only and that's to get better and get back to being who I know I can be. It hasn't gone anywhere. It's not gone. But it's there. I just need to get back to it, and I think, finally, we're heading in the right direction."

Tillman was left without a chair when the club shortened its rotation from six men to five this weekend, with newcomer Jeremy Hellickson always meant to force one of the rotation's struggling pitchers out.

That it was Tillman, who has been the club's most reliable pitcher for years but hasn't been the same since a shoulder injury last year, was tough on everyone involved. Tillman said he never imagined it coming to this for himself.

"I guess with the way I've been pitching, yeah, but I didn't see it coming," he said. "I mean, I knew something needed to happen. I needed to get back to being me. It wasn't happening starting, so I think it's going to be a good thing. I need to get back."

Tillman insists he's healthy after missing the spring and all of April with a shoulder injury, and his fastball velocity has been at its highest of late, averaging 92 mph in three of his past four starts. But he's been struggling to command his entire arsenal and has seen his release point drop drastically since last August.

For all the uncertainty of going to the bullpen and how long it will take him to warm up, how he'll be used, and how that lifestyle will suit him, Tillman said he and pitching coach Roger McDowell are more focused on returning him to the delivery that's made him successful.

"Roger and I sat down for a long time the last couple of days and I think we figured some stuff out," Tillman said. "I think we've got a starting point, somewhere to start and move forward from there."

Manager Buck Showalter said the move has been well-received by Tillman, who is entering free agency this year.

"Chris is the ultimate 'What's best for the team' guy," Showalter said. "He wears it, and it bothers him. I don't know how you put it, the strong will or whatever you want to say it takes to go out there, have that outing, go upstairs and get your ice and whatever treatment, then come out and sit in the dugout with your teammates — try doing that some time.

"It eats at him. Can you imagine having the success that he's had and not being able to get there again? We talked. It's among friends. Roger and I talked to him: 'Here's the way we see it. How do you see it? We have three or four options here. What do you see?' He wants what's best for the team. And like I said when we put Ubaldo [Jiménez] down there, I bet we're going to have a need and Chris is going to be ready to serve it."

Beckham a leadoff option: Not even a week into his Orioles career, new shortstop Tim Beckham's 13-for-20 start has him being mooted as a potential leadoff hitter for a team that hasn't had a natural one in years.

Showalter said there's other factors to consider, not the least of which would be Beckham's career .308 on-base percentage.

"Where would you hit Adam [Jones]?" Showalter said. "There's always a point-counterpoint. You don't want to mess with [Jonathan Schoop]. Manny [Machado] is doing a lot better. There's a lot of ways you can go, and Tim's doing really well where he is, which is a little higher than where he's been. It presents a possibility if we want to go there, especially if Adam needs a day or something. Tim would be considered. It's going to be hard to think that he could continue this pace."

Álvarez always an option: Slugging first baseman Pedro Álvarez hit his 25th home run of the season for Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, and Showalter said it's "somewhat of a mystery" how no team has come and tried to sign him away this year.

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"I think every team has a need for what he's been bringing down there, and because he's got a track record down there, you don't think it's just a Triple-A thing," Showalter said. "We've talked about it a lot over the course of the year. It just hasn't fit yet."

Álvarez had a contract opt-out in June, but the team re-negotiated it to essentially give him a standing opt-out that he could exercise for a major league opportunity at any time. He's a candidate to be added to the Orioles when rosters expand, but would need to be added to what could be a crowded 40-man roster.

In the meantime, he's been getting strong reports from Tides manager Ron Johnson.

"He's actually been playing first base pretty well lately," Showalter said. "I keep seeing that mentioned. He made a nice play last night that Ron [Johnson] mentioned. I think the word last night was ... he thought it went in the water. He said that wind stuff in Norfolk, the high fence and everything, that doesn't play into Pedro. It doesn't matter. Ron is pretty glowing about him."

Around the horn: Infielder Ryan Flaherty (shoulder) will remain on his rehab assignment with Double-A Bowie through Thursday, Showalter said, and is a candidate to rejoin the team in Oakland over the weekend. ... Minor league infield coordinator Dave Anderson will substitute for bullpen coach Alan Mills on Wednesday and Thursday as Mills attends to a family matter.

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