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May 5, 2011

Connor, Showalter both back struggling Tillman; Tillman-Fox out of sync?

After giving up eight runs on 10 hits and a walk in the Orioles' 9-1 loss this afternoon to the Kansas City Royals, starter Chris Tillman fell to 1-3 with a 7.16 ERA after six starts. However, both manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Mark Connor essentially came to the youngster's defense after the game.

"He’s a young pitcher, the younger pitcher on our staff, I believe," Showalter said. "He certainly has some things that challenge inexperienced pitchers that he’s got to work through. ... The way he started out, I thought he was going to pitch pretty well. Stuffwise, he was in better shape than he has been in the past. But he’s got to do better than that. We all know that."

Showalter was asked by MASN's Gary Thorne whether Tillman would remain in the rotation, and he said: "As far as I’m concerned. He’s going to have to get better. Our options are him and a few others."

OK, probably not the biggest endorsement, but Connor made some interesting comments about the young starter.

"You know, normally when a guy gives up eight runs, you wouldn’t talk positively about a whole lot of things. But like I told him, the things that we’ve been working on, I saw it today. I saw it coming together a little bit," Connor said. "We’re trying to get angle, we’re trying to get his body downhill to throw the ball. I thought the ball came out of his hand better today. Really, he gives up eight runs, but I thought there were like two or three bad pitches that he made.

"I told him, ‘It’s hard to take some positives out of that, but we’re going to.’ We’re going to keep working. He threw some good curveballs, some good cutters. His fastball had some life, and it had some angle. It was downhill a little more than what it has been."

I'm sure some people will dismiss those comments as a veteran pitching coach not wanting to further damage the psyche of a young starter, but I don't. Connor doesn't usually sugarcoat a poor performance by his pitcher, so if that's what he's doing in this case, it's out of character.

Though nobody would say it in the clubhouse after the game, it seemed pretty obvious that Tillman and catcher Jake Fox weren't exactly on the same page. Fox had a rough afternoon himself, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout, allowing two stolen bases and two wild pitches, and sailing one throw that was intended for Tillman into center field.

Asked whether he felt that Tillman and Fox were a little out of sync, Connor said, "Maybe a little bit, but I put that on the pitcher."

When he was asked about the work of his battery, Showalter said: "[Tillman] pitched pretty well the last time out with Fox. I’m not a big believer in hanging that around catchers. The way he pitched last time out was presentable. I’d like to take it to another level."

Tillman's response when he was asked that question was: "It was just a frustrating day. There’s really nothing else I can say.”

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 8:07 PM | | Comments (9)


Tillman has me baffled. There's no in between with him. He either pitches really well Ranger in '10 and Rays (opening Series) or gets rocked and I mean rocked Giants '10 and today Royals. It's not as if the Royals are the '27 Yankees. They have some pretty good hitters. One would think they are elite and they are not, the Indians pretty much shutdown the Royals this year. To be honest, the Orioles might have been lucky to have won one game in this series. If that ball hadn't gotten stuck, who knows. The Orioles as a whole are not playing passionate baseball. I don't expect them to win every night. However, I do think they should be competitive night in and night out and that doesn't appear to be the case. We need more consistency from everyone not just one player.

PS Sending Tillman to the minors will do nothing. He needs to sink or swim here! I still stand by that Bergy should be made a set-up man and Tillman continue being a starter.

I am sorry to see Tillman continue to rise or fall to the perceived level of competition.

If it were me, I'd be sure Wieters caught him and hope I could catch lightning in a bottle and trade him should he actually show something. Otherwise we will continue to be tempted by what might be rather than what is.

Time for Tatum.

I don't care what these guys say, Fox hurts this team when he is behind the plate.

I'm not saying this outing was Fox's fault, but I am saying that he doesn't appear to have any pitcher's confidence back there.

I AM SORRY TO SAY THE orioles starters are exactly where I expected them at this point.. I simply believe Tillman needs AAA to work on his command and other things conner wants him to do while he still has some confidence... WE are trying to force feed him to learn getting beat up in the big leagues like we did LIZ and CABRERA,, it could ruin his developement.. ANDY made a strong statement the last couple years to make guys at AAA just plain dominate to force the orioles to pitch them at this level.. Sign millwood or what ever wwe need to allow him to learn at AAA and maybe have to move Bergesen to the pen when Matusz is ready..The only thing surprising me this year is the offense, and I have noticed some other teams fine offensive players are getting cold starts this year for whatever reason.. I BELIEVE TILLMAN is still an excellent young arm but needs to learn at the proper level and at his own speed.

is this the kind of stuff a kid has to learn at the major league level, and if so, why?
Aren't the stakes a little higher up here?
Maybe the Os ought to get themselves a pitching coach at A and AA and AAA that are more aligned with what a guy like Connors knows they need to do to be successful? Whatever happened to the idea of arriving in the majors at least being mechanically sound. I'm sure the other parts of the game are tough enough.

I think it's time the O's go back to a 4 man bench and bring up Tatum. I think Fox will put up some good #s off the bench, as well as when he gets a few starts at 1B to rest Lee, but he's not confident behind the plate so the O's aren't getting offense nor defense with Fox.

I understand that there is concern about the starters going deeper, but this team needs a 4 man bench with guys like Vlad, Scott and Lee because they need rest. The extra guy we are keeping is Rappada so it's not like we have some stud in the BP.

Tillman needs to either go to AAA or stay with the club in the BP as the swingman. He shouldn't be starting anymore till he works things out. I have no clue how he lost his velocity, but maybe a spot in the pen will let him use his stuff without fear?

I have no idea why everyone wants to move Bergy to the bullpen. If you send Tillman and Bergy to the minors, who exactly is pitching in the rotation? Drese? I can understand the arguement with Tillman, he is talented but clearly needs work. However, that doesn't really apply to Bergy. Bergy is older, more mature, and pitched to a 3.4 ERA while going deep in games when healthy. Last year, he struggled through injuries but still kept his ERA under 5 and got on a nice roll at the end of the year. He isn't an ACE by any means, but he does seem to be capable of keeping the team in the game and giving us a chance to win. Also, he doesn't exactly have the stuff where he would make a lot of sense in the bullpen. He is the best when his sinkers are on, and sinker ballers tend to pitch better deeper in games. I just don't see the bullpen as a fit and also don't really get the desire to move him so badly, especially given the alternatives. Simon will be a much better bullpen fit, when he is stretched out. Matusz can take Tillman's place. As for Duke, that is a bridge that can be crossed when he is actually able to pitch.

I have to agree with sending Fox away. Coming out of ST, management as much as said that he earned his way with his hitting, but that his liabilities as a catcher nearly outweighed his hot bat. So now he has 28 AB's in 30 games. Whether he's hitting well or not, I can't see filling one spot on a four-player bench with a guy you're afraid to use.

Chris Tillman is the second coming of Hayden Penn. All potential/no substance.
Last thing...I fully understand the whole concept of resting catchers on day games following night games. However, given the fact that you were already going that route before the plane touched down in KC, would it not have been better to start Fox with Jake & let Tillman get all the help he could from Weiters?
To me, it appears Jake has a very good idea of what he wants to do on the mound & would survive with Andy Etchebarren catching whereas, Tillman looks as lost today as he did 2 years ago.
Just a thought.

Jeff Z's reply: Good post. The one start Arrieta had with Fox was dreadful and it was clear that Arrieta was out of his comfort zone. I think Buck saw enough of that combo at that point. Tillman meanwhile has thrown to Fox quite a bit between last year, spring training, this season. Arrieta has not. Being that Wieters was off yesterday, and the Orioles are off Monday and have day games both Saturday and Sunday, it will be interesting if Wieters catches all three this weekend. I bet he will.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.

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