BALTIMORE — Chris Tillman has been searching for the consistency that turned him into an ace in 2013.
The Baltimore Orioles right-hander had a complete-game shutout on May 16 against Kansas City. And then his next outing, he lasted just one inning.
He had two starts where he gave up just one run. And they were sandwiched around another one-inning outing.
But since that one-inning start on June 4, Tillman has been more consistent, much like his 2013 self. The right-hander pitched eight solid innings, Nick Hundley and Nelson Cruz homered, and the Orioles beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-1 before 34,895 at Camden Yards.
Baltimore (42-37) salvaged a split in Friday’s day-night doubleheader with the win.
“Anytime you can step back on what you’ve done in the past, as long as you remember what the keys were, it can get you back in line and back in the zone,” Tillman said. “It was a struggle for me early, but it’s coming.”
Last year, Tillman pitched to a 16-7 record and was easily the best Baltimore starter.
For the first time this season, Tillman has pitched seven innings or more in three straight starts and six innings or more in four consecutive outings. He gave up just one run on four hits in eight innings, tied for his third-longest outing of the season.
“He’s carrying more pitches,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s come so far.”
Tillman (7-4) gave up a solo home run to James Loney with one out in the second, but settled in after that. He retired nine of the next 10 batters and didn’t give up another hit until Kevin Kiermaier legged out an infield single with one out in the sixth.
The Orioles’ starter only had two strikeouts, but was able to retire Tampa Bay (33-49) batters handily, at one point registering eight straight flyball outs.
“I was able to throw the fastball for strikes,” Tillman said. “Anytime you’re able to throw to both sides of the plate and mix in off-speed, I think it’s kind of a recipe for success.”
Hundley went 2 for 4 and drove in Baltimore’s first two runs of the game. He dropped in an RBI single to left in the bottom of the second inning to tie the game 1-1.
Later, Hundley welcomed Rays reliever Juan Carlos Oviedo (3-3) to the game by leading off the sixth with a go-ahead solo shot that wrapped just inside the left-field foul pole, his first since being traded to the Orioles in May.
“We have a lot of power on this team, a lot of guys who can hit it out anywhere on the field,” Hundley said. “That’s why it’s so dangerous. Guys who go the other way, can pull homers, can go to the middle of the field. When you have a team, a lineup, with this much depth and this much power to all fields, it makes it tough to pitch to.”
Cruz later added to Baltimore’s lead by delivering his 25th home run of the season. It was an opposite-field, two-run shot to right that just cleared the scoreboard and made it 4-1.
In the last nine games, Cruz has hit four home runs. He is tied with Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion and Chicago’s Jose Abreu for the most homers in the American League.
The Orioles loaded the bases twice early, but wasted both opportunities. Manny Machado struck out with the bases full to end the second.
Baltimore’s Adam Jones went 4 for 4 with a pair of doubles and Lough collected a pair of hits. Zach Britton worked a scoreless ninth for his 10th save.
Britton was also the only Baltimore reliever needed in the second game of the doubleheader, after just Evan Meek and Brad Brach were used in the first. Now, the Orioles, who are just 1 1-2 games back of Toronto, have a lot of fresh arms for the last two games of the series as they try to take their fourth series in a row.
“I’d have signed up for that in blood,” Showalter said. “To not have [Darren] O’Day or Tommy [Hunter] or Webby [Ryan Webb] or Brian [Matusz], that’s a real tribute to the job that Brach and Evan did, and of course the job that Tillman did.”