In 2009, the Baltimore Orioles called Chris Tillman up in late July to give him a taste of pitching against big league hitters and to begin to evaluate the capabilities of the young right hander. Understandably, the 21-year old showed some flashes but often struggled to get guys out. In 2010, Tillman was given the opportunity to win a job in the starting rotation, but he was inconsistent in the spring and the club felt it best to get him more seasoning at the AAA level. Tillman dominated at Norfolk and quickly earned a call-up in late May. Again, Tillman appeared to be over-matched and unable to locate his pitches and repeat his mechanics well enough to be an effective starter. Tillman was again sent to Norfolk, then recalled again by the Orioles in September and finished the ’10 season in the Orioles rotation.
So the question is, what exactly do the Orioles have in Chris Tillman? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is still to be determined. Tillman, who is still a highly regarded young pitcher, came to Spring Training with what seems like less of a chance to make the Opening Day rotation than he had last year. With Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta emerging as the three most reliable young arms in the organization, and the acquisition of veteran Justin Duchscherer, there seems to be little room in the rotation for Tillman. The health of Duchscherer is a variable that can affect the chances of Tillman breaking camp with the Orioles, as would a rough spring by either of the big three mentioned above. But at this point Tillman seems to have his ticket punched for AAA again.
Tillman, like the rest of the Orioles rotation, saved his best for Buck. Tillman pitched to a 4.09 ERA after Showalter took over for the Orioles. Granted his performance late in ’10 is a small sample size, encompassing 28 and 2/3 innings over 5 starts, Tillman seemed more confident on the mound in those starts. Part of what made him more successful was his improvement with his cut fastball. Tillman is a hard thrower and has a nice 9-5 curve-ball, but his fastball is relatively straight. In the 2010 spring training, then Orioles pitching coach, Rick Kranitz worked with the young pitcher to develop a cut fastball in order to get more movement and give hitters something else to look for. Tillman used the cutter a great deal more at the end of the 2010 and the results were positive.
Tillman still figures prominently in the Oriole future plans for their young pitching, but he may have already been passed in the club’s eyes by Zach Britton. If he is going to be a successful big league pitcher, he will need to improve his command and his walk to strikeout ratio. Tillman had a 1:1 ratio in his time with the Orioles last year. So far this spring he is sporting a 1:4 ratio, but he also has pitched to a 7.20 ERA in five innings so far. Can Tillman become the top of the rotation starter we thought he was when the Orioles traded for him in the Erik Bedard deal? Maybe not, but he has the stuff to pitch for the Orioles for a long time, if he can consistently execute his pitches and make that cut-fastball