"I learned a lot last year," said Tillman, who had two stints with the Orioles and has spent the past three seasons shuttling back and forth from Triple-A Norfolk. "It was a tough year for me, especially towards the end. Going into the offseason, it lit a fire under me, and hopefully, I've come a long way. I'm excited with where I'm at right now."
Tillman's early appearances and between-starts work have been drawing raves this spring, and he's hit 95 mph on the gun on two separate occasions, most recently Sunday against the Red Sox, when he allowed just one hit. The right-hander spent this offseason working out with special assistant Brady Anderson, and pitching coach Rick Adair said Tillman's increased strength has better enabled him to repeat his delivery the 100 times or so necessary in a regular start.
Asked if he thought Tillman was more confident with his fastball as a result, Adair smiled and said, "I would be, too."
"[Tillman] attacked the strike zone with his fastball and his velocity," manager Buck Showalter said. "Last year, he'd come out there and be 88-90 [mph] and he was frustrated, and then all of a sudden, it pops up. His delivery has been more consistent, throwing the ball downhill. That fastball has allowed him to do different things. Chris is not scared. Chris is a competitor, and I like a lot of things about him. This guy competes. There's a lot more to him than may meet the eye to some people."
Tillman struggled to get the ball down in his first outing, and he made the adjustment when he faced the Red Sox a second time Sunday. He faced just nine batters, allowing one hit and getting a double play. His velocity, once a sore subject -- particularly in the first inning -- is there, a fact duly noted by Showalter, who has had several talks with Tillman.
"There's a little different look about him," Showalter said. "There's not any deer in headlights, he knows the gig. You can tell he's a lot more comfortable in this environment, and now it's just about pitching better. He's one of our younger guys in camp, and I think he's grown a lot from last year to this year. I used to say last year some of the best development goes on in the offseason -- guys like Chris and hopefully Brian [Matusz], they kind of get away from it. It's not all about working out ... but Chris, mentally, he's got a little different air about him."
A former-second round Draft pick who was acquired in the Erik Bedard trade, Tillman has struggled to make the transition from top prospect to effective Major League starter. With his offseason work paying early returns, he remains hopeful that the majority of his struggles are behind him.
"I'm more comfortable with my delivery, which gives me the confidence [to go to the fastball more]," Tillman said. "I know it's there for me. They both play a role in it. Just having confidence is a big factor. I feel like when you are confident in your delivery and happy with it, you have confidence to throw it."