Before the season, the Baltimore Orioles' fifth and final spot in the rotation was all but certain to be RHP Chris Tillman’s.
There was a lot of hope in Baltimore that Tillman would rebound from a hard rookie season and help anchor the bottom end of the rotation.
However, because of Tillman's poor numbers this spring and David Hernandez's ability to throw strikes, Baltimore was forced to option Tillman back to Triple-A Norfolk.
At 21 years old, Tillman is still young and has plenty of time to develop. The move will allow the young pitcher to get some command out of his secondary pitches.
In addition, the decision to start Tillman off in Norfolk this year could pay dividends for the young pitcher’s career.
Tillman’s overall numbers this spring also have been deceiving: His overall ERA is 3.86, and he has a batting average against of .226. However, during his last 13 innings pitched, Tillman has given up home runs in three straight games. He has a 4.85 ERA and a BBA of .359.
Tillman has struggled to throw strikes: In 16 innings this spring, he has an alarming strikeout-to-walk ratio of 9BB/10K.
Although spring stats do not always depict how a season might go for a player, Baltimore does not want to overload its young pitcher—like it has in years past.
Furthermore, Tillman’s inability to stay out of trouble recently reflects his rookie season.
Last July, Baltimore’s rotation was a wreck, and the magic of Matt Wieters' arrival was fading. The Orioles were in dire need of a change in the rotation.
With Brian Matusz still not ready, Tillman got the nod after posting impressive numbers at Triple-A Norfolk.
In his time at Norfolk, Tillman was 8-6 with an ERA of 2.70 and 99 strikeouts in 96 innings. Tillman had also lowered his BB/9 from 4.3 in his time at Double-A to 2.4 at Norfolk.
With the stage set, Tillman made his much-anticipated major league debut against the Kansas City Royals on July 29, 2009.
Baltimore went on to beat the Royals, 7-3; however, Tillman did not receive the win—and he was credited with a no-decision after he failed to log the MLB minimal five innings.
Unfortunately, Tillman’s transition did not go as Andy MacPhail and the Orioles had hoped. Tillman logged an unimpressive 5.40 ERA and only managed to record 39 strikeouts against 24 walks, and a H/9 of 10.7.
To make matters worse, Tillman gave up 15 home runs on 65 innings, and he gave up at least one home run in 11 of his 12 starts. He had a HR/9 ratio of 2.08, which was 51 points higher than Jeremy Guthrie’s—Guthrie also led the MLB with giving up 35 home runs.
Luckily, all is not lost for the Orioles. Tillman is still young and has plenty of raw talent. He will have plenty of time to garner that talent before he makes the jump back to the club.