Millwood to start Thursday; Tillman demoted


Tillman heads to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for veteran's return from disabled list Wednesday

July 20, 2010|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

Orioles veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood will return from the disabled list to start Thursday's game against the Minnesota Twins, forcing Chris Tillman out of the rotation and back to Triple-A Norfolk.

Before Tuesday's game, the club announced the demotion of Tillman, who is 1-4 with a 7.92 ERA in six starts. The Orioles will activate Millwood on Wednesday.

"We figured Tillman is not going to pitch again for five days, so why not do it now and get him on his way," interim manager Juan Samuel said. "That's the decision we made instead of waiting until" Wednesday.

The club recalled Tillman, 22, to take Millwood's July 10 start in Texas after a strained forearm landed the veteran on the disabled list. Tillman allowed just one unearned run and two hits in 7 1/3 innings against the Rangers, buying him more time in the majors.

But in his next start, Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays at Camden Yards, Tillman lasted just 2 2/3 innings, yielding eight earned runs.

"It basically becomes a roster issue with all these guys coming. Basically, he came up to take Millwood's spot and now Millwood is coming back," Samuel said. "I'm sure he knows if he would have pitched better [Monday] night, it probably would have been somebody else."

Tillman and Brad Bergesen (3-7, 6.37 ERA) were the two likeliest candidates to lose their rotation spot, but Bergesen will pitch Wednesday against the Rays as scheduled.

With Millwood starting Thursday, Jeremy Guthrie will be pushed back to Friday, with Brian Matusz scheduled to start Saturday. Samuel said he would not go to a six-man rotation and did not know of any pending trades that would help lessen the roster crunch.

The Tillman decision is just one of several roster moves looming for the Orioles, who will also activate left-handed reliever Michael Gonzalez (strained shoulder) on Wednesday or Thursday, catcher Matt Wieters likely Sunday and second baseman Brian Roberts possibly in time for next week's trip to Toronto and Kansas City.

That means Samuel and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail likely will remove four players from the current 25-man roster within the next week.

"I think Andy's got his hands full trying to figure out which way we're going to go," Samuel said.

Millwood, who was 2-8 with a 5.77 ERA before hitting the DL on July 6 with a forearm strain, threw a bullpen session Tuesday and said he was pain-free.

"He's ready to come off. His bullpen sessions have been good. He does not feel anything in his forearm, so we expect a good game from him," Samuel said. "We know when Kevin is right, he's the one guy that you can count on taking it deep" into a game.

Easing Gonzalez in

Gonzalez's minor league rehabilitation assignment ends Wednesday, and he will be activated Wednesday or Thursday. Signed to a two-year, $12 million deal to be the team's closer, Gonzalez will be eased back into a bullpen role, Samuel said.

"My idea for him is to use him in nonpressure situations right now to start, to get him acclimated to the role that he was signed here to do," Samuel said. "He needs to pitch well to get him back to that [closer's] role, and we have planned to ease him into it."

Gonzalez pitched in just three games with the Orioles, converting only one of three save opportunities while posting a 0-2 record and 18.00 ERA. He pitched in 12 games at four minor league levels during his rehab assignment, going 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA. He gave up 13 hits, walked three and struck out 16 in 122/3 innings.

His fastball velocity hit the low 90s, but his slider reportedly was not as sharp as it had been in the past, according to one scout who watched Gonzalez pitch in the minors. Regardless, he'll be back in the Orioles' bullpen against Minnesota.

"A lot of those guys down below, they don't concentrate as much as they will do up here," Samuel said. "So you're hoping that once these guys get up here and see major league hitters that they get their stuff back."

Samuel to be cautious with Roberts

After Brian Roberts went 2-for-5 in his first minor league rehab game at Double-A Bowie, Samuel figures that the second baseman believes he's ready to come back to Baltimore. But Samuel said the club will continue to be cautious with Roberts, who has played just four games with the Orioles this season because of a herniated disk in his back.

Samuel said Roberts likely will go with the club on its seven-game trip to Toronto and Kansas City, but the manager would like to keep Roberts off the artificial turf at Rogers Centre.

"For me, the ideal place for him is Kansas City. I don't know if we want him coming back from his rehab with the kind of injury he had on Astroturf," Samuel said. "We have to be smart. We do not want to see him have a major setback. I'm sure he's going to push his way into playing in Toronto, so we have to be smart with this."

Samuel said it's possible that Roberts could pinch hit in Toronto but not play in the field.

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