Starter Tillman aims to stay in majors this time

Tillman to start Sunday against Rays

September 04, 2010|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

Chris Tillman's 2010 baseball odyssey hasn't been a particularly pleasant one.

The 22-year-old right-hander failed to make the Orioles' roster out of spring training, worked his way back up, only to be demoted twice while posting a 7.92 ERA in six starts.

Sure, he's had a Triple-A no-hitter this season and an impressive run for the Norfolk Tides, going 11-7 with a 3.34 ERA in 21 starts.

But his goal is to stick in the majors, and his next shot to impress comes Sunday, when he faces the Tampa Bay Rays, the same club that sent him back to Norfolk after bashing him for eight earned runs in 2 2/3 innings on July 19, his last game as a big leaguer.

"It feels good to be back; it's been a long season, a roller coaster," said Tillman, who was in the Orioles' clubhouse Saturday in preparation for Sunday's start. "I just got to go out and do what I know I can do. I've been pretty consistent at Norfolk and … that's been the thing since spring training that I've wanted to work on: Being consistent with all my pitches. I just got to continue doing that, and I think I'll be fine."

Tillman was scheduled to make his final start this season for Norfolk on Sunday, but Orioles manager Buck Showalter wants to get a look at the 6-foot-6 prospect whom the club acquired in the Erik Bedard deal with Seattle in 2008.

"I haven't seen him pitch other than on tape," Showalter said. "Everybody here has, so I am kind of the last guy. We'll see after [Sunday's] start where we go."

Tillman has shown some glimpses of why the organization is so high on him, like his impressive two-hitter against the Texas Rangers on July 10 and a quality start versus the New York Yankees on June 9. But he has also had some clunkers, three times failing to go at least three innings in a start. Knowing the talent is there, Tillman said he has been working on his approach while in the minors.

"I learned a lot of the mental game. Everything's not always going to be easy. It's going to be tough, you have to battle your way through it" he said. "The mental part of the game is even more than the physical part. And I think I learned a lot about the mental part this year. It's been a tough year. … In the long run, I think it'll be good for me."

Hendrickson has best performance

Overshadowed in Friday's 4-1 loss to the Rays was the performance of reliever Mark Hendrickson, who allowed two infield singles in three innings of scoreless relief while striking out a season-high five batters, including the side in the seventh. It came on the heels of picking up the loss Wednesday, when he allowed three runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Boston Red Sox.

That's the only time he has given up an earned run in his past 10 appearances.

"It was good to get back out there. Obviously, the previous outing with Boston I wasn't too happy with the results, I think the command was off," said Hendrickson, whose 4.97 ERA is down significantly from a season-worst 6.34 mark on June 13. "For me, it was just the command of pitches, and being aggressive and being efficient with pitches. From that standpoint, yeah, it was good."

The 36-year-old Hendrickson, a free agent at season's end if the Orioles don't pick up his $1.2 million option, has had scoreless outings in seven of his eight appearances under Showalter.

"Buck is going to be here," Hendrickson said. "If anybody wearing this uniform wants to be here, well, [Showalter's] not going anywhere. So it's important to show him what we can do."

Showalter has seen Hendrickson pitch for years, but has a different perspective now.

"I was thinking [Friday] night driving home, when you're with somebody, you see him from afar and you have a certain feeling about him, you go, 'How is he having that success? How is he staying around?' Showalter said. "Then you're with him and you understand exactly why people have wanted him around, and what he allows you to do as a manager as far as versatility."

Hendrickson, who lives an hour away in York, Pa., has expressed his interest in staying with the Orioles, and though the team has been non-committal on his future, the organization likes Hendrickson's leadership, versatility and unflappable demeanor, which earned the 6-foot-9 lefty the nickname, "The Big Smooth."

"There's a reason why they call him 'Smooth'. He understands it. He understands what he is here for and how he can stay in the major leagues. He's mature," Showalter said. "Sometimes, I wish some of our young pitchers [would] listen to him more than they do. He carries a voice of wisdom here."

Jones out again

Center fielder Adam Jones was out of the starting lineup Saturday for the eighth time in 10 games due to the left shoulder pain that he re-aggravated on a swing Wednesday.

Jones was hoping to play at some point this weekend, and athletic trainer Richie Bancells believes the condition is improving after a cortisone shot was given Thursday, but Showalter doesn't expect Jones to play Sunday.

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