Tillman and Britton return for Saturday doubleheader

Both 23-year-old pitchers have spent time in minors after early struggles

July 30, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

NEW YORK — In May, they seemed to be heading in different directions — lefty Zach Britton looking like a rookie sensation and right-hander Chris Tillman dealing with a demotion to Triple-A Norfolk after an inconsistent two months.

But Britton suffered his own rough eight-start patch and was sent to Double-A Bowie for three weeks this month in order to limit his innings and manage his major-league service time.

Now, assuming things go as planned, the two 23-year-olds will start Saturday's doubleheader atYankee Stadium — with Tillman pitching the first game and Britton the nightcap.

Both were in the clubhouse Friday. Tillman was activated this morning with teammate Brad Bergesen going on three-day paternity leave. Bergesen's wife, Shea, will be induced Monday morning if she doesn't have the baby, a boy, this weekend. It is the couple's first child.

"It's nice," said Britton, who was 6-7 with a 4.05 ERA in 18 starts with the Orioles this season. "Good to see the guys again, kind of a rough stretch going down there and watching the guys on TV. So it's good to be back."

In Britton's final eight appearances in the majors, he was 1-6 with a 6.86 ERA.

"I felt like the last couple starts up here I hadn't had the good offspeed pitches to go to when I was behind in the count," said Britton, who was 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in three starts with the Baysox. "You can't keep throwing fastballs. So, really [I was] just working on that and fine-tuning my mechanics. So the results weren't great, but at the end of the day, I did what I needed to do. What I felt like was going to get me better."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who has said he doesn't want Britton to be overworked in his rookie year and will likely shut him down at some point in September, believes the time away from the majors was beneficial.

"I think Zach is in a good place, where he needs to be, and understands what the rest of the year is about for him," Showalter said.

Britton said it's "tough to say" whether the demotion was necessary, but overall he is OK with it in retrospect.

"It was kind of like a little breather for me, it was like, 'OK, what did I do up there that helped me be successful? What did I do up there that I need to get better at?'" Britton said. "So I think it was a good period for me."

Tillman's stretch in the minors this year was much longer. After going 2-3 with a 4.69 ERA in 10 starts with the Orioles, he was sent down May 29. He made 10 starts for the Tides, going 3-3 with a 4.17 ERA.

"When I was here, I wasn't very confident throwing the ball in," Tillman said. "I think [Tides' pitching coach Mike Griffin] did a good job down there making me throw the ball in. I think it went well. Hopefully, it continues up here."

Tillman has been given no indication whether he'll be making a spot start or if he has a chance for an extended stay. It is possible Tillman could be sent out directly after his start to make room for Britton before the nightcap.

"It's a process. It's a battle. I've got to focus on my start. I can't look ahead to what's going to happen in the future from here on out," Tillman said. "Everything that went on in the past is in the rear-view mirror. Hopefully, we'll run with it and see where it takes us."

The last time Tillman pitched in Yankee Stadium he gave up nine hits and six earned runs in 1 2/3 innings in a 7-4 loss to the Yankees on April 13.

"It's a challenge to be on the road against a very good offensive team. I'm anxious to see where Tilly is as compared to where he left," Showalter said. "I'm not going to say that I'm coming into it knowing exactly [what] we're going to get tomorrow."

Izturis back with team

Infielder Cesar Izturis rejoined the club on Friday and tested his surgically repaired right elbow in batting and infield practice. He hopes to be activated soon.

"I am very close. I am here with the team and am taking batting practice and groundballs [Friday] and will go day-by-day and see how I feel," Izturis said. "I think I feel great. So it's up to them to make a decision."

Izturis batted .192 in 26 at-bats for the Orioles this year before going on the disabled list. He rehabbed at Double-A Bowie, batting .200 in four games. He said he doesn't feel like he has any rust.

"When I was at rehab, you go there and take some pitches and take at-bats and work hard and put yourself in the position that you can play in the big leagues," Izturis said. "It's not like you haven't done it before."

When Izturis comes off the disabled list, it's possible rookie Blake Davis (.214 average in 42 at-bats) will be sent back to Triple-A.

Gonzalez back

Left-handed reliever Michael Gonzalez has returned to the club after serving a three-game suspension for throwing behind Boston slugger David Ortiz on July 10. Gonzalez watched the three games in a Toronto hotel room. It's not something he wants to do again.

"It was tough," Gonzalez said. "I really didn't think it was going to be that big of a deal, but you do get bored out of your mind when you are used to doing something and you see your team is out there playing. It's like when you're in recess and you're in timeout and you don't get to play. That's kind of how I felt."

Around the horn

Right-hander Mark Worrell cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. … Heading into Friday, shortstop J.J. Hardy and right fielder Nick Markakis were each one home run shy of career No. 100. … First pitch for Friday's game was at 8:54 p.m. after a rain delay of one hour and 49 minutes. ... The Yankees held a moment of silence Friday night for former Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu, who died Wednesday at age 42.


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