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Chris Tillman has lost velocity, but has become craftier

The 30-year-old starting pitcher has found success in using deception.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Chris Tillman has had two solid outings in a row, after starting the season with an 11.91 ERA. On Friday, Tillman snapped a streak of 22 consecutive games without a win, winning his first game since May 7, 2017.

To make matters more intriguing for Tillman in Friday’s game, he went seven innings, allowing just one hit, while walking two and striking out five batters. It was his longest outing of the season, first quality start and first scoreless outing.

“But it’s tough because I sit there and go ‘okay, you want to win the game’. Obviously that’s number one,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Tillman on Saturday. “You want Chris [Tillman] to get something positive because you know what it all could mean to us if Chris can get going like Chris is capable.”

In his outing before that, Tillman went six innings, allowing four runs (four earned) on eight hits, while walking just one batter, striking out five batters and allowing three home runs.

How has he gotten better? Here’s a look:

In the past two starts, Tillman has mixed in his changeup, curveball and slider, and pounded the zone with his fastball. However, he has added a few pitches to his arsenal, using three different variations of his fastball; a sinker, a cutter and a four-seam fastball.

Over the course of the season, Tillman has used his fastball 34.81% of the time and sinker 14.72% of the time, while also mixing in a cutter (0.23%), curve (12.15%), slider (20.79%) and changeup (17.29%). Many starting pitchers have three to about four pitches. Tillman has six and has used every single one.

His fastball has usually sat around 90 mph in 2018, but in his start on Friday, it dipped down to 86 mph, while also going to 89 mph. Tillman’s curveball sits around 76 mph, while his slider and changeup are around about 83 mph. Though not having much speed on his pitches, he’s been able to effectively get batters out. The change of speeds on his pitches have been key to his success.

He has increased his groundball rate from 39.5% in 2017 to 41.9%, which means he’s keeping the ball low. His K/9 rate has dropped from 6.10 in 2017 to 4.81 in 2018 per nine innings, but he’s also giving up fewer home runs per nine innings, going from 2.32 in 2017 to 1.85 in 2018.

Although he may not be the same Tillman that threw 93-95 mph earlier on in his career, he’s become much more crafty. That type of pitching could help the Orioles succeed, as long as he gets the run support.