Chris Tillman burned by big inning, allows six runs in spring finale as Orioles lose, 12-4

For the Orioles, a spring of uncertainty spent looking for signs that right-hander Chris Tillman would be able to move on from his 2017 collapse and regain his place as a reliable part of the rotation looks like it will continue beyond March.

Featuring a fastball that rarely bumped past 90 mph and done in by an 11-batter, five-run second inning, Tillman pitched into the sixth Saturday. But he was charged with six runs as the Orioles closed up business at Ed Smith Stadium with a 12-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins before a sellout crowd of 7,769.


It leaves Tillman needing to stress the positives and write the long second inning off as bad luck and weak contact. And it leaves the Orioles needing to believe all that to be true as he projects to slot into the rotation in the first two weeks of the season.

"Right where I need to be," Tillman said after his final start of the spring. "I feel like this one was even better than the last one, based on what we've been trying to do here in spring. I was pretty pleased with the way this one went, other than that second inning."

Describing that inning, manager Buck Showalter could only turn up his hands and shrug.

“Gave up a swinging bunt to third, and a cue shot off the end of the bat,” Showalter said. “Six pitches that weren't called strikes. What are you going to do?”

Overall, Tillman featured aspects of each performance in his Grapefruit League bow Saturday. After an efficient first inning that required just 13 pitches but included a home run to right field by No. 2 hitter Erihe Adrianza, he lost the plot in the second inning. He began it with a four-pitch walk, then loaded the bases on a bloop single and a second free pass. He picked up his first strikeout of the game with the bases full of Twins. But after first baseman Chris Davis saved extra bases and multiple runs on what was ultimately an RBI groundout, Byron Buxton reached on a swinging bunt and scored on a double by Adrianza.

Tillman could have been out of the inning with a strikeout, but a wild pitch on strike three swinging allowed Robbie Grossman to reach and the inning to continue. The Twins made it five runs in the inning on a pair of singles — one an infield single to third base that Danny Valencia couldn't come up with — before a third strikeout ended things for Tillman.

"There was one ball hit in the outfield," Tillman said. "So I think that one I'd probably like to have back, but all the other ones were pretty poorly hit on the infield, but you can't defend those balls. There's not a whole lot you can do."

Orioles top prospect Austin Hays ended last season in the big leagues, but was optioned Saturday to Double-A Bowie.

After clean third and fourth innings, Tillman had retired eight straight before Ryan LaMarre singled off him with one down in the fifth. He threw one pitch in the sixth inning just to acclimate his body to a sixth time off the bench, and left having allowed six runs on seven hits with a pair of walks and three strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.

He ends the spring with an 8.03 ERA in three starts, but both he and Showalter said he’s in a better place than any point last year. Showalter noted Tillman’s curveball, which he’s throwing with consistent shape for swinging strikes and bad contact again.

“I would have taken six ups and 90 pitches before we went into it,” Showalter said. “That was good. His curveball was good. That's a pitch that's been pretty good for him this spring that he didn't have last year.”

As far as his fastball velocity — Tillman was around 87-89 mph on the stadium guns, and readings from scouts backed that up — neither is concerned. Tillman said as much curtly, and Showalter said it’s more about the reactions of the hitters.

“I'm more interested in probably the way other teams are reacting to it,” Showalter said. “When Chris is pitching well, he gets a lot of fly-ball outs. It looks like he just missed one. I know what you're talking about. Last outing was a little crisper, but he threw some balls 91 mph, 92 mph tonight. He can usually pick it up 1 mph or 2. But it's not a pure velocity gun. There's a lot more going on, and it's better than it was last spring.”

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