Orioles Get Glimpse of Promising Future As Chris Tillman Makes Debut
It was two winters ago that Bavasi sent Adam Jones, Chris Tillman and George Sherrill to the O's in exchange for Erik Bedard. For the first time since that deal, all three appeared on the same major league field together.
Jones homered and had four RBI in Baltimore's 7-3 win. Sherrill was in line to get the save, warming up in the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth inning before getting the night off when the Orioles tacked two runs onto their lead. And Tillman, making his major league debut, got a no decision after allowing three runs in 4 2/3 innings. Not bad for a start.
"We can hit, it's a matter of good pitching," Jones said after the win.
That is where Tillman comes in.
Amid the juggernauts in the AL East, the Orioles have been quietly building since Andy MacPhail took control of baseball operations in mid-2007, introducing a number of promising rookies over the past two seasons, including Jones, Nolan Reimold and Matt Wieters.
The common thread, of course, is that those guys are all hitters.
The Orioles have nothing resembling an ace on their roster, and they haven't since they shipped Bedard off to Seattle. They've allowed the second-most runs in the American League this season and for the three years prior to that. There's talent in Baltimore, enough to maybe make it a fringe-factor in the East as soon as 2010, but for that to happen, the pitching has got to come.
The results were mixed in Tillman's debut -- not surprising given the magnitude of any pitcher's first start in the major leagues and all it entails, from getting your family in town to the adrenaline of taking the mound in a big-league ballpark for the first time.
"He's a young kid. It's his first time out there, you can only imagine how fast his heart is racing," manager Dave Trembley said.
"The first inning, I was definitely a lot more nervous than I have ever been," said Tillman. "I'll definitely be able to sleep tonight. It was a rough night, last night [getting ready for my debut]."
All three runs allowed by Tillman came on solo homers, a sign that perhaps he was leaving his fastball up in the strike zone. Trembley said he wasn't surprised that the right-hander was leaving the ball up, but that he'll have to pitch inside to hitters and command his curveball better to be effective.
A scout in attendance told FanHouse his performance was "OK," adding that a 46-minute rain delay after he warmed up didn't help matters.
"He will be fine," he said, "but [Brian] Matusz (another highly-regarded Orioles pitching prospect) will be better."
That, of course, is what is important in the grand scheme of things. Tillman's debut is symbolic more than anything. The results on the field aren't particularly important with Baltimore buried in the bottom of its division at 43-57.
"All those [rookies] will utilize this experience that [they] get this year and come back next year. If [they] make half the progress that Jones made [between 2008 and 2009], we'll have something, and that's what we feel we're going to be," Trembley said.
If the Bedard trade was the moment momentum shifted from negative to positive for the Orioles, then Wednesday was another significant mile marker on the road back to respectability. What a long road it has been too.
Tillman has reached the major leagues now. Matusz, who is 7-0 with a 1.59 ERA at Double-A Bowie this year, and Jake Arrieta, who is 9-7 with a 3.35 ERA between Bowie and Triple-A, might not be far behind.
You can never be 100 percent certain with pitching prospects, but help appears to be on the way.
The Baltimore fans, who showered Tillman with a standing ovation when he departed the game after a mediocre performance, seem to know it. And so do the players in the Orioles clubhouse.
"He came out, he threw strikes, he let the defense work for him. That's all we need," Jones said.
A few more guys with Tillman's pedigree wouldn't hurt either. Just wait a little while.