Tillman ready for challenge of making Orioles' Opening Day roster

Pitcher 'looking forward to it' despite being underdog; Gonzalez OK with not closing

February 13, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — When Chris Tillman arrived at spring training last year, it was widely assumed that he was going to be the Orioles' fifth starter. However, he was out-pitched by David Hernandez and Jason Berken, who both made the team's Opening Day roster while Tillman started the 2010 season with Triple-A Norfolk.

On Sunday, Tillman entered camp as a decided underdog to make the team after the club's acquisition of talented but injury-prone Justin Duchscherer. However, Tillman's mindset hasn't changed.

"I think I'm in the same boat as last year," he said as he joined teammates Brian Matusz, Jeremy Guthrie and Matt Wieters in the clubhouse on reporting day. "I think this year has been a little more public. I'm excited. I think I put myself in a good spot, and I'm really looking forward to it."

Tillman, who went 2-5 with a 5.87 ERA in 11 starts for the Orioles and 11-7 with a 3.34 ERA in 21 starts for Norfolk, said he exchanged texts with Guthrie after learning of the Duchscherer signing. Before the addition, it was believed that Tillman was the front-runner for the fifth starter spot in a competition that would also include Rick VandenHurk and Zach Britton.

"Me and Jeremy were texting each other, and he just said, 'You've been working hard in the offseason, and you put yourself in a great spot to do it.' That's all you can really do. I'm confident that I did my job in the offseason," Tillman said.

Tillman spent the offseason working out at Athletes' Performance Institute in Los Angeles. He acknowledged it's really the first time he has been on a strict workout program.

"I think I'm very prepared for spring training," he said. "I put myself in a good spot in the offseason to get ready for spring training and the rest of the season. You walk in here, see a bunch of new faces, see the names on the [locker] tags. It's an exciting time."

Gonzalez fine with new role

Reliever Michael Gonzalez was signed to a two-year, $12 million deal before the 2010 season to serve as the Orioles' closer. A year later, his name is barely mentioned in the discussion of manager Buck Showalter's closer options. And that's just fine with Gonzalez, who is focused on staying healthy and fulfilling his contract

"[My role] has changed, but I feel good about the situation," Gonzalez said. "I'm at the point right now where I feel that I want to prove in any way possible that I'm good and I'm healthy, and it's more myself than anything else. I'm just excited about coming in here and getting going."

Gonzalez, who said throughout last spring training that he wasn't hurt despite his diminished velocity, had a disastrous start to the 2010 season. He blew save opportunities in two of his first three outings. He then went on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder and missed about three months.

"Well, obviously, last year was more of a nightmare to me, especially starting the year," Gonzalez said. "It was one of those things where you're fighting yourself. You always want to be healthy, and you always want to be able to go out there and prove what you're able to do. I was fighting myself, and it came back and bit me in the butt, but it's one of those things where I've got to put the past behind me, and I'm looking forward to what I can do this year."

When he returned from the disabled list, Gonzalez pitched to a 1.76 ERA in his first 18 appearances. In 26 games after the All-Star break, he had a 2.78 ERA.

"It was one of those positive notes where I wish the season had kept going," he said. "I wish I had gotten another month just because I felt good, but I didn't feel great. My velocity started coming up, my stuff was better, but it wasn't to the Gonzalez that I'm used to, when I just know I can go out there and get it done. I'm looking forward to going out there and getting it done this year."

It's expected that Gonzalez will serve as a setup man to either Koji Uehara or Kevin Gregg, though Showalter hasn't established bullpen roles.

"We've got some great arms, man," Gonzalez said. "And, obviously, it's going to help a lot with the starting rotation. You've got some experience, you've got some live arms. It's definitely an upgrade from last year. I'm looking forward to it."

Around the horn

New third baseman Mark Reynolds had already arrived at spring training Sunday, a week before position players are required to report. … Monday's workout is scheduled for noon and is open to the public.



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