Big Flies Sting O's

Tillman Gives Up Three Homers

Offense Can't Break Through Against Niemann

August 20, 2009|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - -After watching for more than a decade as their starting pitchers fall behind hitters game after game, year after year, the Orioles have stressed to their new crop of talented young arms the importance of throwing strikes.

Rookie Chris Tillman, who may have the highest upside of the group, is listening. But his yearning to get ahead in the count has had one considerable drawback: In his five big league starts, five of his first-pitch strikes have quickly left the ballpark, including three Wednesday night at Tropicana Field in a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tillman allowed just seven hits in six innings, but three were solo homers - all coming on 0-0 fastballs that he tried to sneak past Rays hitters.

"My first-pitch strikes obviously have got to get better," said Tillman (1-1), who recorded his first major league loss despite recording his third consecutive quality start. "The first one I was throwing to get ahead. The other two I missed my spots. It can't be like that."

Said Orioles manager Dave Trembley: "He threw 101 pitches in the game and 98 of them I thought he threw pretty well."

The three mistakes were enough to hand the Orioles their fifth straight loss, thanks to an offense that was just 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and failed to score against Tampa Bay starter Jeff Niemann until Brian Roberts' solo homer in the eighth.

The Orioles (48-72) are a season-worst 24 games under .500. Since the All-Star break, they are 8-24 and haven't won a series.

In their two losses to the Rays, the Orioles are 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position.

"It's frustrating when you can't get hits and drive runs in. To win, you've got to score runs and we haven't been doing that lately," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "But Niemann threw a heck of a game today, and we just didn't scratch anything across."

The Orioles had one golden opportunity against Niemann (11-5), who allowed seven hits and one run in 7 1/3 innings and left to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 18,474.

Trailing 1-0, the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth. Cesar Izturis hit a liner up the middle that might have scored two, but Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett dived and knocked the ball down. The runners had to hold for a moment, and the hesitation allowed Bartlett to jump to his feet and throw home to force out Wieters.

"I hit it good, but [Bartlett] was right there," Izturis said. "He has been doing that all year long. He's a great defensive guy, and he made a great play. There's nothing you can do about it."

Roberts then grounded into a double play - for just the fourth time this season - to end the threat. The Orioles picked up one more hit, Roberts' homer, for the remainder of the game. Even right fielder Nick Markakis was shut down, going hitless in four at-bats to end his 11-game hitting streak and his 38-game streak of reaching base safely, which had been the longest active one in the majors.

The Rays' Pat Burrell and B.J. Upton each homered for the second consecutive night, and Ben Zobrist added his 20th of the season.

Tillman has allowed nine homers in five big league starts, and eight have been solo shots. He gave up just five homers in 18 starts for Triple-A Norfolk this season.

"I can't really knock myself too hard, because I am being aggressive," he said. "At the same time, I've got to make better pitches with 0-0 counts."

Tillman is following a trend that has haunted the entire staff. The Orioles as a team have served up an American League-worst 157 homers, including 30 in 18 August games.

Their opponents have homered 10 times in the past three nights, including three each against rookies David Hernandez, Jason Berken and Tillman.

"It probably is a broken record for me. With all due respect, what it is, is throwing the ball right down the middle of the plate," Trembley said. "They are learning some very hard lessons that hopefully will lend themselves to their becoming what we all feel they'll become, and that's very good pitchers. That's not to say they are not right now, but they've got a ways to go. They are doing OK."

Overall, Tillman threw fairly well after escaping a bases-loaded jam in a 31-pitch first inning without yielding a run. He threw 36 pitches total in his next three innings, and at one point retired nine in a row.

"A couple of guys told me that was my best start yet," Tillman said. "But like I said, I need to make those better 0-0 count pitches. They killed me on that tonight."


Tonight, 7:08


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