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Tillman not awful, but offense is; Orioles blanked, 4-0

Do you know who Mike Clevinger is? It doesn’t matter, he just threw a shutout against the Orioles.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles lost a game to the Cleveland Indians that Chris Tillman started. That is probably not a surprise. Tillman, though, never stood a chance, thanks to a horrific O’s offense that has saddled much better Orioles’ pitchers with a similar fate.

Let’s start with Tillman. Despite my essentially writing his eulogy last week, he’s still an Oriole, and he’s still in the starting rotation, and here he was on the mound again, riding a 21-start winless streak and an 8.28 ERA stretching back to last season. I’m starting to expect that I’ll still be recapping Chris Tillman starts in, like, September. Of 2022.

And in all fairness, Tillman’s final line this afternoon was nothing horrible. He worked six full innings for the first time this year, limiting the damage to four runs and eight hits. He issued only one walk, his fewest of the season, and he racked up five strikeouts for the first time since last July 28. At times, he broke off curveballs that almost looked like vintage Tillman.

Still, for much of this outing, Tillman looked like a tightrope walker trying to juggle flaming torches while angry crocodiles nipped at his heels. His command was still shaky, his pitches were hittable, and the damage might have been worse if he weren’t facing an Indians offense that’s last in the AL in both batting average and OPS.

Tillman got himself in trouble in the first inning with a walk and a single that put two runners aboard, and then he uncorked a wild pitch that advanced both into scoring position. Only one scored (on an RBI groundout), so perhaps that’s a moral victory.

Tillman’s second inning featured another wild pitch back to the screen, but he stranded a man on second. He wriggled out of a jam yet again in the third when, with two on, Michael Brantley hit a sharp bouncer to Chris Davis at first. Davis started the inning-ending double play, with Tillman hustling to cover first base.

Through three innings, Tillman had allowed only one run. Things almost seemed to be going his way. And then...the dongs started.

Yan Gomes struck first with a solo home run into the left field seats in the fourth, his third of the year, to make it a 2-0 game.

Did you know that “Yan Gomes” is an anagram of “Gas Money”? Just, uh, food for thought.

Tillman’s best inning was a 1-2-3 fifth, leaving him tantalizingly close to throwing a quality start. All he had to do was pitch one more inning without giving up two runs.

That did not happen.

Jose Ramirez led off the sixth with a mammoth home run to right, his fifth. Later in the inning, Manny Machado’s brother-in-law Yonder Alonso went yonder, crushing a Eutaw Street home run. Both those blasts were absolutely tattooed. This is still 2018 Chris Tillman, after all.

That said, Tillman probably pitched well enough to buy himself at least one more start, especially since the Orioles aren’t exactly awash in alternatives for the rotation. He lowered his ERA into the three-digit mark, at 9.87. Progress! It was, however, his 22nd consecutive start without a victory.

As it turned out, no pitcher could’ve won this game for the Orioles, considering the sleepwalking offense churned out exactly zero runs. The lucky pitcher who got to pad his stats today was right-hander Mike Clevinger. While the long-haired 27-year-old is a perfectly decent pitcher — with a 3.67 ERA in 47 career games entering the day — he’s not a guy who should be throwing a shutout against you.

The Orioles, though, barely put up a fight. Their lineup, missing the injured Trey Mancini, featured only three players with an OPS over .700 entering the game (including Luis Sardinas, who’d had only 13 plate appearances). Clevinger carved them up without breaking a sweat.

As is the Orioles’ custom, they were no-hit through the first three innings. It’s the fifth time in 21 games this year they’ve been held hitless through three. Is that a lot? That seems like a lot.

Only once all afternoon did the Orioles even get a runner into scoring position. It happened in the fourth, when Machado singled and then shortstop Francisco Lindor whiffed on a potential double-play grounder, moving Manny to third. But Tim Beckham had an unproductive at-bat with one down, flying out to left, too shallow to score Machado. Former Indians prospect Anthony Santander grounded out to end the inning.

That was basically it. Chance Sisco walked to open the fifth, was erased on a Sardinas double play, and the Orioles never reached base again. Clevinger mowed down the final 14 batters of the game, retiring batters before you could blink. Clevinger threw only 20 pitches in the last three innings combined. Orioles hitters had early dinner reservations, apparently.

With an Adam Jones groundout in the ninth, Clevinger polished off his first career shutout and complete game. He gave up just two hits and two walks, striking out three. Pure dominance by Clevinger, and yet another pitiful performance by the Orioles’ bats.

If you’re looking for good news today, alleged weak-armed catcher Chance Sisco flashed his gun, throwing out all three runners who attempted to steal against him. Sisco has now cut down seven of 11 base stealers this year (64%) and has looked much better defensively than his minor league reputation would have you believe. With all due respect to Caleb Joseph, there’s no reason Sisco shouldn’t be starting four of every five games behind the plate going forward.