Orioles facing a painful truth with options lacking to replace top starter Chris Tillman

The Orioles' pitching depth has been a problem all year, and with Tillman out, it could lead to their undoing.

The truth hurts more than Chris Tillman's sore shoulder.

The Orioles have had a pitching depth problem since the day they reported for spring training and every attempt to address it — except for the decision to rush Dylan Bundy into the rotation — has brought frustrating results.

So, when the decision was made Tuesday night to put Tillman on the disabled list, there was no good option to replace him. Manager Buck Showalter finally decided to give Ubaldo Jimenez a chance Thursday to become part of the solution instead of a big part of the problem. But that decision tells you all you need to know about the playoff-killing crisis that could be developing in the starting rotation.

It's not that Jimenez is an illogical choice. He's on the roster because of his substantial contract and he hasn't proved to be a capable long reliever, so giving him another shot at redemption in the rotation makes sense because, well, no one else in the organization does.

If you need to know just how desperate this situation could become, consider Showalter's immediate answer when asked why he chose Jimenez to take Tillman's slot against Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer on Thursday.

"As opposed to who?" he said.

That wasn't meant as a shot at Jimenez, just a gut response to a question that really had no other answer.

"Ubaldo is actually probably the most equipped," Showalter continued. "He has pitched well here against these guys. We looked at our options and it looked like he was the one worthy of getting the opportunity."

Clearly, there was no alternative but to grasp at the only straw available, which is the amazing career record that Jimenez has compiled against the Nats. He is 6-1 with a 2.32 ERA in eight starts against them and 4-0 with an 0.92 ERA against them at Nationals Park, which would be pretty compelling if not for the fact that all but one of those games were pitched well before Jimenez began his star-crossed Orioles career.

It's only one game, of course, and it's a game that the Orioles would not be favored to win even if a healthy Tillman were going to take the mound, but the problem does not go away even if Jimenez pitches a terrific game. The uncertainty about Tillman will remain along with the very limited options available to the club if he doesn't come back quickly.

Though there has long been debate over Tillman's status as a legitimate ace, he certainly has been that this season. The Orioles are 20-6 in his starts this year and entered Wednesday just 49-50 in all their other games. He has made a habit of throwing himself in front of whatever adversity the Orioles have encountered and there doesn't appear to be anyone in the rotation who can take over that role.

The shoulder soreness that has sidelined him could not have cropped up at a worse time. The Orioles are staring into the final month of the season with their top starting pitcher and the captain of their bullpen (Darren O'Day) on the shelf. Bundy has been a revelation, but he's a rookie who is just getting comfortable in the rotation, and Kevin Gausman has begun to assert himself, but still is burdened by his inability to win on the road.

Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette sought to avoid a vacuum like this by signing veteran Yovani Gallardo in spring training and acquiring left-hander Wade Miley at the midseason trade deadline. But the results from Gallardo have been mixed and Miley entered Wednesday night's game with a 9.53 ERA in his four Orioles starts.

Theoretically, there is still time for Duquette to go back into the trade market before the Aug. 31 deadline for acquiring players eligible for their new team's postseason roster. In reality, acquiring a quality pitcher at this time of year is all but impossible, especially with an expanded wild-card format in which there still are 18 teams with plausible playoff hopes.

What you see on the Orioles organizational pitching roster is what you're going to get if Tillman doesn't come back soon after he becomes eligible to leave the DL on Sept. 5 … and no one wants to ponder the team's postseason prospects if he doesn't come back at all.



Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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