Tillman last one to know he made Orioles' rotation

Righty was fishing when it was decided he'd be part of his first big league Opening Day; Hendrickson to Triple-A

March 31, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — — By the time Chris Tillman learned he was officially pitching Sunday's third game of the season, pretty much everyone he knew had already heard the news.

Tillman, the Orioles' 22-year-old right-hander, went fishing one last time this spring Wednesday afternoon and didn't see the text from pitching coach Mark Connor until about four hours after it was sent. By that time, Tillman's phone was jammed with well wishes from those who had read the news online.

He and fellow righty Brad Bergesen were in limbo this week, assuming they had made the Opening Day roster but not knowing who would pitch in which role. The Orioles waited until seeing Bergesen throw a two-inning simulated game Wednesday afternoon to make a decision — he'll begin in the bullpen — and by then, Tillman had gone fishin'.

"They texted me to tell that they'd rather tell me in person, but that's the way it had to be done," said Tillman, who was 2-0 with a 3.93 ERA in five spring games, allowing 20 hits and nine walks while striking out 10 in 181/3 innings. "I'm excited, you know? I think we worked hard all spring, with Rick [Adair] and Mark. I'm really excited for Sunday."

Friday will be Tillman's first big league Opening Day. He was in the running for a rotation spot in 2010 but lost out to David Hernandez.

"Coming in this spring, it was kind of the same situation," Tillman said. "I wanted to work hard in the offseason and carry over the momentum [from 2010]. I think that helped me tremendously in the offseason."

Bergesen was thought to be the front-runner for the spot, but he was struck in the forearm by a line drive last Friday in just his fourth pitch against the Minnesota Twins. After Wednesday's simulated game, he said he was pain-free. He'll likely stay in the bullpen until April 10, when the Orioles need a fifth starter.

"It felt good to get back out there and compete again," Bergesen said. "For me, I'm taking it very positively and treating it like I have 10 more days to try and fine-tune some things, hopefully."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Bergesen is "a candidate" for the April 10th start but wouldn't give him the spot yet. There are several variables, Showalter said, including what will happen if Monday's home opener is rained out and the Orioles have to play five days straight.

"They wanted to put me in the bullpen just to make sure I was fully ready for this year and just give me a little more time," said Bergesen, who was 1-1 with a 5.82 ERA in six spring games. "April 10th, they said, they're probably going to need someone. That's kind of what they're kind of hinting at, but who knows what could happen until then?"

Duchscherer has setback

Righty Justin Duchscherer, who is on the disabled list with left hip soreness, had back discomfort Wednesday while working out in Sarasota and has been temporarily shut down.

"Mostly that time, I believe, was his back, which also could be a byproduct of the hip," Showalter said. "We are not sure yet."

Duchscherer visited a chiropractor Wednesday and may leave Florida to see the doctor who performed surgery on his left hip in June. Showalter said that has not been determined.

Duchscherer pitched just two innings in one exhibition game this spring but threw two more in a simulated game Tuesday. He had been targeting April 20 as a return to the majors.

"It's a little frustrating for him. He thought he had turned the corner a little bit. Hopefully, he has," Showalter said. "Hopefully, the next day or two, it will quiet down and we're back on the bicycle again."

Duchscherer, 33, has pitched in just five big league games in the past two seasons because of various injuries. The Orioles signed him to a one-year, incentive-laden contract that pays him a guaranteed $700,000 and was to include an additional $400,000 if he made the Opening Day roster.

That salary increase is prorated, so he would get roughly $200,000 extra if he joins the team at the exact midpoint of the season. There are also performance bonuses based on the number of starts he makes. The Orioles took the risk — and structured the contract accordingly — because, when healthy, Duchscherer has been an effective major league pitcher.

"We knew it was going to be a challenge back when we signed him," Showalter said. "We'll continue to go down that road and see if we can get him [to the majors]."

Hendrickson to minors

Veteran left-hander Mark Hendrickson, who was reassigned to minor league camp Monday but explored his options, agreed Thursday to go to Triple-A Norfolk.

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