Tillman states case for fifth spot in rotation


Right-hander allows two hits, two runs against Red Sox on Saturday

March 20, 2010|By Dan Connolly | dan.connolly@baltsun.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Earlier this week, the Orioles' brass said Chris Tillman has not yet won the fifth rotation spot.

On Saturday, the 21-year-old right-hander answered with an impressive performance against a stocked division foe -- his way of saying he will not go away quietly.

"That's been my mind-set coming in, and that's how it is going to be throughout spring," said Tillman, who is battling David Hernandez and Jason Berken for the slot.

Tillman, who made 12 starts for the Orioles last season, had never faced the Boston Red Sox before he allowed two runs and threw 59 pitches in 2 2/3 innings in Fort Myers on Monday.

He had a chance to redeem himself Saturday against a Red Sox lineup that featured every regular but Mike Cameron. And he did. Tillman threw 70 pitches in five innings and didn't allow a hit until the fourth, when Dustin Pedroia doubled and Kevin Youkilis homered in a 6-0 Boston win. He gave up no other hits or runs.

"He had a good outing," said bench coach Jeff Datz, the active manager of the split-squad game. "He was ahead of the hitters for the most part. And when he did get behind, he made some good pitches, primarily with his fastball. It was a nice outing."

This spring, Tillman has been working on a cut fastball that at times he has had trouble controlling -- which might have led to uneven results.

On Saturday, he threw it at will, staying away from his sharp curveball at times to test his cutter.

"I was very happy with the cutter today," he said. "I threw a lot of them in a lot of counts I would normally have thrown my curveball, just to build my confidence in it."

The performance impressed Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

"Good, real good," Francona said. The Orioles "made some moves a couple years ago, and those young kids weren't ready to show it at the big league level. But now, unfortunately, those kids are starting to mature and we are going to see them in the big leagues, and they have a chance to be pretty good."

Meredith finally allows hit

Reliever Cla Meredith has now thrown six scoreless innings this spring, although his hitless streak ended when he allowed consecutive singles to Pedroia and Victor Martinez to start his outing Saturday in Fort Myers.

He then retired the next three he faced, including striking out Boston slugger David Ortiz on a nasty slider. In a sense, he was encouraged by pitching out of a tough spot.

"That was big for me to go in there and wiggle myself out of a jam because, quite honestly, that's my role, to come in and try to clean up some messes," he said. "Obviously, I didn't like being in the situation, but I was pleased to work out of it."

Heading into Saturday, Meredith, who is fighting for a spot in the bullpen, had faced 14 batters and hadn't allowed a hit.

"I'm just trying to keep it simple. Some guys use spring for different things. I use it to do exactly what I plan to do during the year," Meredith said. "I try to pound the zone, I try to get ahead and I try to put guys away ... and so far so good."

Reimold's struggles continue

Nolan Reimold came into Saturday's game at Ed Smith Stadium hitless in 19 exhibition at-bats, and he found no relief in three plate appearances against the Pirates.

He went 0-for-2 with a walk, but manager Dave Trembley feels Reimold's work with hitting coach Terry Crowley will soon pay off. Trembley said he's not worried about Reimold's numbers, so long as his surgically repaired heel continues to mend.

"I wouldn't worry about Nick Markakis if he was 0-for-19, so I'm not going to worry about Nolan," Trembley said.

Avery gets at-bat

Among the minor leaguers who were called up for one day with the split squads Saturday was 20-year-old outfielder Xavier Avery, the team's second-round pick in 2008.

Avery entered as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning and had an at-bat in the ninth, a strikeout on a nasty breaking ball from Red Sox reliever Joe Nelson.

"My heart was beating fast. It was my first time really being around big league players out on the field. So it was a big experience for me," Avery said. "I'm not worried about the at-bat I had; that's part of baseball. I was just having fun today."

Around the horn

Mike Gonzalez, who had hoped to stay behind to get treatment for his sore back before throwing in minor league camp, will make the trip to Clearwater to face the Phillies on Sunday, according to Trembley. ... Felix Pie was back in the starting lineup in Sarasota for the first time since suffering a shoulder strain while weightlifting. He singled in each of his first two at-bats. ... Reserve catcher Craig Tatum was in the starting lineup in Fort Myers, two days after getting hit on the left index finger by a foul tip.

Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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