Tillman's hard work, self-awareness paying dividends

Tillman's hard work, self-awareness paying dividends

Tillman's hard work, self-awareness paying dividends
NEW YORK -- Last September, Chris Tillman was home in California and watched from his couch as the Orioles posted a resurgent 15-13 final month. This year, Baltimore is pushing for its first playoff berth in 15 years, and the 24-year-old Tillman is helping lead the charge.

"That in itself is a positive," said Tillman, who posted a 5.52 ERA in 13 Major League starts last season, and has been able to avoid the back-and-forth shuttle from Triple-A Norfolk that made up the previous three seasons. "Being able to pitch deep in games and giving the team a chance to win consistently is a good feeling. The most important thing with a starting pitcher is you know after the game you gave your team a chance to win. And I've been happy with that so far."

Since being promoted from Norfolk for his season debut July 4, Tillman has been able to find a level of consistency that has eluded him in seasons past, pitching to a 2.38 ERA in 10 games. He was optioned once prior to the All-Star break -- a roster technicality that wasn't indicative of performance --but hasn't missed a turn in the O's muddled rotation.

Instead, the young right-hander is thriving, using a simplified delivery and growing confidence to post a 2.95 ERA in his last three starts, including seven scoreless innings against the White Sox on Tuesday, in which he allowed only an infield single.

"It's hard to get here, but it's harder to stay," Tillman said. "I think you get here, and then you kind of relax, and that's not the [way it should be]. You got to keep working hard, keep trying to get better. It's always a goal of mine to try to do something every day, make myself feel like I've gotten better."

"He knows that there's another challenge," manager Buck Showalter said of Tillman's mindset this season. "He's really matured about the time in between [starts] and putting his success and failures behind.

"I'm proud of him and the work that he and [Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin] and [Norfolk manager Ron Johnson and, I'm sure, [Orioles director of pitching development Rick Peterson] have done. But it's all been about Tillman. It's about the pitcher, he did it. It's not [Orioles pitching coach] Rick Adair, it's not Grif. It's the pitcher. These guys do this. I think regardless, with his makeup, Tilly at some point in his career would have figured it out."

Tillman will make his next start Sunday afternoon in the series finale against the New York Yankees, a team he has struggled against in his career, going 2-3 with a 8.42 ERA in six starts. He is 2-2 with a 10.69 ERA in four games at the new Yankee Stadium, including one earlier this year in which Tillman battled illness and a five-run (four earned) first inning in which he was able to gut out five frames.

When asked how things finally clicked for him, Tillman -- a highly regarded top prospect who was the Mariners' second-round selection in the 2006 Draft -- said, "I'm getting to understand myself a little better. I think that's the key, is getting to learn yourself and being able to make those adjustments. I don't think you are ever done or have figured it out. Because the second you think you've figured it out, everyone knows this game is a very humbling game and will knock you back down. So, you got to stay off your high horse and try to stay even keel. And keep working. It's never-ending."