Tillman Falters After Starting Strong

Rookie Starter Loses Control In The Sixth Inning While Minnesota's Baker Baffles Orioles' Struggling Hitters

August 25, 2009|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

MINNEAPOLIS - -After five shutout innings on Monday, Chris Tillman suddenly got stuck, a term Orioles manager Dave Trembley uses often when one of his young pitchers gets into a situation that he can't escape.

The ground balls that Tillman had gotten earlier in the game, leading to three double plays, had turned into a couple of line-drive hits. His command was starting to waver, evidenced by the changeup that bounced well before the plate and then past catcher Matt Wieters, allowing Alexi Casilla to score from third for the game-tying run.

The Minnesota Twins' two-run sixth marred what was shaping up to be the best start of Tillman's nascent career. As it turned out, he couldn't afford any missteps as Scott Baker and two Twins relievers held the Orioles to one run in a 2-1 loss before an announced 20,271 at the Metrodome.

"If Tillman pitches like that, he's going to win a lot of games because we'll score the runs for him," Trembley said. "Against that lineup and in this place, I'd pay to watch him pitch again. He did a nice job."

Tillman's effort couldn't stop the Orioles' eighth straight loss on a Monday and their 26th defeat in 37 games since the All-Star break. Fourteen of the Orioles' past 25 losses have been by two runs or fewer.

The Orioles (51-74) managed just four hits and scored their only run in the third inning on Brian Roberts' RBI double. Their last scoring chance off Baker came in the seventh, when they had runners on first and third with two outs, but Melvin Mora grounded out; he now has just one hit in his past 22 at-bats.

Wieters, who also accepted the blame for failing to block Tillman's wild pitch in the sixth that allowed Minnesota to tie the game, acknowledged that it was tough to waste such a quality start from a pitcher.

"When a pitcher has that kind of outing, you always want to give him a win or at least not saddle him with a loss," he said. "They did a good job, too. You got to give their pitchers credit, but I think Tillman's still got to take a lot of positives out of it and into his next start."

Tillman (1-2) allowed two earned runs on six hits and three walks, and struck out one. He entered the decisive sixth inning having thrown 73 pitches and allowing only three hits, all of them singles and two of them instantly erased by a double-play ball. But it took him 22 pitches to get his first out of the sixth by striking out Joe Mauer, and by then, the game was tied and Minnesota had runners on second and third with one out.

"I'm still kind of confused about that last inning," said Tillman, who didn't give up a home run for the first time in his six-start career. "It's such a blur. I felt I made pitches when I had to and they took some good swings when they had to. They came out on top. That whole last inning kind of came at me real fast. That's part of the learning curve is being able to slow that down and still stay with my game."

After Casilla had hit a leadoff triple and then scored on the wild pitch, Tillman surrendered consecutive singles to Denard Span and Orlando Cabrera. Trembley kept the rookie in the game long enough for Tillman to fan Mauer. But after calling for Tillman to walk Justin Morneau to load the bases, Trembley handed the ball to veteran Mark Hendrickson. Tillman threw 101 pitches, 28 in the sixth.

"Easy call," Trembley said of his decision. "He's not gassed at that point. He did his job. You're going to do something for the team there. Chris Tillman had done his job and gone as far as he needed to go and it worked out. I don't think anybody could say, 'Hey, what are you doing?' "

Hendrickson minimized the damage, but Jason Kubel's sacrifice fly brought in the eventual game-winning run.

"I felt 100 percent," Tillman said. "Quite honestly, I thought they were going to leave me in there after I walked him. I thought I was still in there, but they brought in Hendrickson to face a lefty. He did his job."

Box score

for Monday's game PG 4

ORIOLES @TWINS

Tonight, 8:10

TV: MASN2

Radio: 105.7 FM

Inside

Jones could miss entire Twins series PG 3

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