SAN FRANCISCO — A day after Chris Tillman gave up six runs in just two innings, the struggling starter was sent to the bullpen, where he'll be used in a long-relief role at least for the time being.
The days off Thursday and Monday will allow interim manager Juan Samuel to go with a four-man rotation until June 26, when a fifth starter is needed. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz said Tillman and the recently demoted Brad Bergesen will be considered for that start.
That means rookie right-hander Jake Arrieta, who started Tuesday night, will take Tillman's spot Sunday for the series finale in San Diego. Tillman, meanwhile, probably won't be available to pitch in relief until Friday.
"With Tillman, for now, he's going to be in the bullpen to give us some help in long relief whenever we need him a couple of days from now," Samuel said. "That's what we have planned for him. We will probably need another starter when we get back home, but we have a couple of days off. That's why I think he can help us there because we've been using so many pitchers. He probably could give us some innings down there until we see what move we have to make when we need another starter."
Samuel said the club considered making a roster move, but it ultimately felt it needed another reliever more than another hitter off the bench. The team felt Tillman could fill that role, but Kranitz made it clear it's a temporary move.
In fact, it sounds as if the Orioles will re-evaluate the plan when they return from the West Coast next week and Tillman, who is 2-8 with a 5.96 ERA in 16 career big league starts, could be optioned to Triple-A Norfolk then so he can resume starting every five days.
"This is not a permanent thing. This is something [so] we have protection the next three or four days," said Kranitz, who added that the decision had been discussed before Tillman was rocked in the Orioles' 10-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Monday. "You have to do what's right for the player, and he needs to pitch. He's not going to sit in the bullpen for us here, and that decision will obviously be made when we get back to Baltimore. But even if he throws great out of the bullpen, he's a starter. He's only 22. I just want everybody to not lose sight of that. Some guys, it may take a little more time."
Tillman is 0-3 with an 8.40 ERA in four starts this season, and Monday's outing marked the second time this year he failed to get more than six outs. Even more problematic than his line Monday, Tillman's velocity was significantly down —he consistently threw his fastball in the high 80s.
"I'd like to see a little more fastball," Kranitz said. "When he goes out, he's kind of feeling his way around instead of letting it [go]. And unfortunately, some of those teams got him early. It will be interesting for him to come out of the bullpen to see how much he's going to let it out."
Roberts out at least another month
Samuel spoke to Brian Roberts (herniated disk) on Tuesday and said the injured second baseman thinks he can probably return in about four to six weeks. The timetable is hardly surprising since president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said Monday that Roberts would be shut down from baseball activities for about two weeks after his latest setback was treated with an epidural.
"I know he's going to be evaluated on Tuesday, but it sounds like in four to six weeks, we should see him around here," Samuel said. "According to the report, that's basically what the target is. To me, it's a positive for us. There's so much uncertainty there. That's something that we're going to be looking forward to, but at the same time, we want him to get comfortable."
In other injury news, Orioles reliever Jim Johnson (slight tear in right elbow) threw from 120 feet Tuesday with no problems. Johnson will start throwing off a mound next week and could begin a rehabilitation stint the week after that. He said in a text message that he's "pretty positive" about his outlook.
Outfielder Felix Pie (torn muscle in back) took batting practice Tuesday in Sarasota, Fla., and reliever Michael Gonzalez (left shoulder strain) will throw a simulated game Wednesday.
No salary dumps for O's
MacPhail said Monday that he is getting regular calls from other general managers interested in some of the team's better-performing veteran players, but he has yet to hear anything too enticing.
"Right now, there are players people are asking about that they don't want to give you anything in return for," MacPhail said. "We have zero interest in doing that."
The Orioles have a couple of decent trade chips in infielder Ty Wigginton, who is generating a lot of interest; third baseman Miguel Tejada; veteran starter Kevin Millwood; and left-handed reliever Will Ohman. They also could decide to move younger veterans such as starter Jeremy Guthrie or outfielder-designated hitter Luke Scott.