“Manager and staff will be keeping an eye on Tillman,” came the dulcet narration of Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne as Chris Tillman warmed up before the Orioles’ Sunday matinee in Detroit.
The 28-year-old Tillman had been left out of the last month of Baltimore’s rollicking playoff push due to right shoulder discomfort, and could only watch as the O’s bounced in and around the AL East’s crowded top spot and attempted to elbow their way into wild card contention. Tillman has been a source of consistency and skill in a weak rotation not massively strengthened by the addition of Wade Miley at the trade deadline. Without him, the Orioles pitching staff became thinner at a time when it needed to dig deep. His return on Sunday against Detroit was a welcome development, but it was known from his warm-ups to his final toss that he would be monitored intently by everyone from Buck Showalter to Gary Thorne.
After the game, in which Tillman spun an encouraging 6 IP, allowing only 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 H, and 4 SO, Showalter was pleased, but made it clear that this start was by no means a sign to let Tillman off the leash, per the Baltimore Sun:
"I think the rest did him good. We're not out of the woods. We'll see how he feels tomorrow and the next day, and whether we need to give him an extra day next time out. We have that ability. We're going to put our best foot forward each day and see where it takes us. Hopefully, Chris is a part of that."
Thirteen of Baltimore’s final 20 games come against divisional usurpers who could realistically swipe their desired playoff spot, including the Red Sox, with whom they kick off a three-game set tonight.
A weapons-grade Chris Tillman operating at full capacity would be quite the boon. His 3.68 ERA and 1.252 WHIP among O’s pitchers who have made at least 20 starts this year is rivaled only by Kevin Gausman, and Tillman’s numbers against the Red Sox (7 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 7 SO) and Yankees (19.2 IP, 3.20 ERA, 21 SO), whom the Orioles will see a lot of in the next three weeks, have been solid (The Blue Jays, against whom he has a 4.32 ERA in 16.2 IP, are a slightly different story).