He was erratic, loading the bases in the first inning and walking four Cleveland Indians in the first three innings.
After the third inning, though, Tillman settled down — despite a fifth-inning hiccup — and turned in yet another solid outing in the Orioles’ 6-3 comeback win over the Indians. Tillman allowed three runs on four hits and four walks in seven innings while striking out six to bump his record to 9-2.
“He battled through the first two innings and just didn’t quite have the location he’s used to having, and once he hit the third, he picked it up a little bit and was able to get us seven really good innings,” catcher Matt Wieters said.
Tillman skirted disaster in the first inning. After getting center fielder Michael Bourn to line out to center field, shortstop Mike Aviles singled before second baseman Jason Kipnis and first baseman Nick Swisher walked. Tillman, though, escaped and allowed just one run on a sacrifice fly by left fielder Michael Brantley.
In the second inning, Tillman issued a lead-off walk to designated hitter Mark Reynolds, who would advance to third on a single by third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. Tillman escaped with no damage this time, as third baseman Manny Machado cut down Reynolds at the plate as he tried to score on a fielder’s choice.
“They're huge,” Tillman said. “All plays are huge. I think our defense is top-notch. You try and stay the course. That's been a part of my head early in my career. You kind of get a break and you can feel like you're on top of the world. Kind of stay the course, even-keel. These guys have been doing it all year, they've been picking us pitchers up big-time.”
After walking Kipnis to start the third, Tillman settled into a rhythm. He retired the next six Indians he faced on two strikeouts, two flyouts and a groundout. It was the type of performance expected out of a pitcher who was 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four June starts entering Tuesday.
He allowed two runs in the fifth on a home run by Kipnis, but he again returned to his earlier form. Tillman retired the final eight Indians batters he faced, finishing the game with six strikeouts, his most in a game since notching eight at Houston on June 4.
“Tonight was a grind, a big grind early,” Tillman said. “We talked a little bit and wanted to get some things going, and found a way. I think Wieters has been good with me for a couple years now. [Reserve catcher Taylor] Teagarden is the same way. They find a way to get you back on track.”
Tillman has emerged as one of the Orioles’ most reliable options in the past year, posting an 18-5 record since June 25, 2012 and 6-0 mark since May 24. And by tying his season-high with four walks but still putting the Orioles in position to grab a late victory, he showed he can still perform at a high level even without his best pitches.
“More of my wins are team wins,” Tillman said. “It’s not so much going out there and pitching all that great, to tell you the truth. We play good defense, swing the bat, you keep it close and you got a pretty good chance of winning a ball game.”