Orioles starter Chris Tillman gets a mound visit from pitching… (Kansas City Star photo )
KANSAS CITY, MO. — One thing that you'll hear from pretty much everyone who has worked with Mark Connor during his 36 years in professional baseball is that the Orioles pitching coach will tell you exactly how he feels.
If his starter has a bad outing, you can expect that Connor will acknowledge that, rather than grasping for one or two positives in search of a silver lining. Even when one of his pitchers throws the ball well, Connor points out how he could have been better.
So It stands to reason that If Connor really thought Chris Tillman was as bad as his line suggested that he was in the Orioles' 9-1 thrashing by the Kansas City Royals today, he would have said as much.
Instead, Connor sounded like a man who will sleep OK tonight, knowing that his 23-year-old pitcher is making some strides.
"You know, normally when a guy gives up eight runs, you wouldn't talk positively about a whole lot of things. But like I told him, the things that we've been working on, I saw it today," Connor said. "I saw it coming together a little bit. We're trying to get angle, we're trying to get his body downhill to throw the ball. I thought the ball came out of his hand better today. Really, he gives up eight runs, but I thought there were like two or three bad pitches that he made."
The eight runs that Tillman allowed tied a career-high, and the 10 hits that he surrendered eclipsed one. He also threw a wild pitch, balked and allowed a stolen base in just 3 2/3 innings before an announced 29,927 on Kids' Day at Kauffman Stadium. It's the second time in his past four starts where the right-hander couldn't get through at least four innings. In between those outings, the rest of the Orioles rotation had gone at least five innings in 19 consecutive starts.
"It was just one of those days," said Tillman who is now 1-3 with a 7.16 ERA after six starts. "I made some decent pitches every now and then, but it came down to making that one pitch in the at-bat and it just wasn't there. I couldn't put away hitters when I needed to. That's the name of the game. Everyone deals with it. I have to battle through that. It was a constant battle today. It didn't go my way."
That was largely true for pretty much everyone wearing the road grays this afternoon. The Orioles (14-16) managed just five total hits, only three of them coming after Adam Jones' RBI single gave the visitors the lead in the first inning. Soft-tossing lefty Bruce Chen, a former Oriole, held his old club to just the one run on five hits and two walks over seven innings.
"It was kind of a big game for us," said Orioles first baseman Derrek Lee who took an 0-for-4. "It would have really made it a good road trip to win two series. But they swung the bats. They came out swinging and never really stopped."
And the Orioles never really started, and the result was a 4-3 road trip that started with three consecutive wins in Chicago against the White Sox. The game's first pitch was delayed for 35 minutes because of rain, and it appeared that much of the energy was sapped out from the Orioles in the Royals' four-run first inning. Tillman allowed hits to the first three batters that he faced. Wilson Betemit added a two-out RBI double later in the inning, and then shortstop Robert Andino lost Mike Aviles' infield pop-up in the sun, allowing Kansas City's fourth run to score.
"He'd make two or three or four good pitches and then he wouldn't finish," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Tillman. "He'd have a sequence where he [could] make a pitch to get out of it and be high with a curveball or a situation where a changeup was a good pitch and he'd leave it up and out over the plate. He'd make two good, quality fastballs and then he'd leave one up, center cut. It doesn't play at this level."
It didn't get too much better from there as Tillman allowed a Chris Getz RBI double in the second inning, and then was knocked out of the game in the fourth after Melky Cabrera connected for a two-run double and Billy Butler also hit a run-scoring double. Still, Showalter said that he felt Tillman had "decent" stuff, and that was the same message that Connor delivered to his young pitcher.
"I told him, 'It's hard to take some positives out of that but we're going to,' " Connor said. "He threw some good curveballs, some good cutters. His fastball had some life and it had some angle. It was downhill a little more than what it has been. We're going to keep working and stay after it. It's a process."
Jake Fox, who caught Tillman for a second straight start, said that the felt the pitcher was affected by a couple of soft hits that the Royals (17-14) got in the first inning.
"He started to try and be maybe a little too perfect," Fox said. "It seemed like he really tried to do a little more than what was needed on the mound. I think that was a good learning experience for him from a standpoint where he's going to learn how to put that stuff behind him and move on."