Most Orioles fans entered this season with no expectations of a winning team, let alone one contending for playoff spot in late July. And yet, here we are. It's plain to see that the Orioles are struggling to stay in the playoff race, and with the recent failures and subsequent demotions of Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta, the smart money says we should just throw in the towel and be thankful for the success we've seen so far.
But among the gloom and doom of a struggling offense and a ragtag rotation, we've been given hope in the form of recently promoted starting pitcher Chris Tillman.
Tillman has, along with the other young pitchers, been a source of frustration to Orioles fans. His struggles are well documented, and he began this year at AAA Norfolk, having been written off by many despite his young age.
In the past week Tillman has made two starts for the Orioles and both have been encouraging. The naysayers will point out that the offenses of the Rays and the Indians are nothing to write home about, and they have a point. But regardless, they are major-league lineups and Tillman pitched well against them.
Last Saturday in Cleveland, Tillman gave up a solo home run to Shin-Soo Choo in the first inning, and then proceeded to shut the Indians down for 6 2/3 innings. He out-pitched Zach McAllister and helped the Orioles to their fourth consecutive win, all on the road.
That start was Tillman's third in the big leagues this season, and his second good one (the third, of course, being a disaster in which he didn't survive the first inning). There's been much talk of the adjustments that Tillman made in the minors with the help of pitching guru Rick Peterson, and it's plain to see that there's a difference. His pitching motion has changed and his velocity is up about 5 mph. But are those things enough to help him finally see success?
So far, I'm encouraged. Thursday he faced the Rays as the Orioles tried to retake second place and avoid being swept by their divisional foe. With James Shields on the mound for the Rays and Tillman for the Orioles, it didn't seem promising. But after a rough first inning in which he walked two, he settled in and ultimately pitched six innings, giving up just two runs. And if the Orioles had a left fielder in left field instead of Chris Davis, it probably wouldn't have even been that many.
Chris Tillman is not pitching like an ace, but he is pitching like a competent member of a big-league starting rotation. Time will tell if he can keep it up, especially when he starts facing teams with better offenses than the Mariners, Indians, and Rays. But right now, for those still clinging to hope that the Orioles can play well enough to contend, Tillman is a huge positive.