O’s and Till­man ‘not out of the woods’

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jon Me­oli

Tonight, 7:10 TV: MASN2 Ra­dio: 105.7 FM IN­SIDE: Bourn giv­ing O’s a “real lift”

DETROIT — Chris Till­man’s re­turn from the dis­abled list Sun­day went well, so well that the re­turn of the Ori­oles’ top starter to a sta­bi­lized ro­ta­tion with three weeks re­main­ing in the sea­son could do as much for their play­off chances as any win.

The pity is that they can’t revel in it. Not yet, at least. Even with six strong in­nings com­pleted and a vic­tory earned in the team’s 3-1, se­ries-clinch­ing win over the Detroit Tigers, there’s no guar­an­tee that the shoul­der prob­lem that has kept the right- han­der out for much of the last month is be­hind Till­man.

The un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the 16game win­ner’s role as the Ori­oles jos­tle for a play­off spot resur­faced Sun­day evening at Comer­ica Park with the op­ti­mism of what Till­man’s health and pres­ence would mean for that push.

“It’s good any­time you can get six in­nings, any­time you get that from a starter against that lineup,” man­ager Buck Showal­ter said. “You come in here, and they’re op­er­at­ing on a lot of cylin­ders. I think the rest did him good. We’re not out of the Chris Till­man, warm­ing up be­fore Sun­day’s game, started slowly but re­turned from the dis­abled list with six strong in­nings.

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.”

Till­man and Showal­ter were quick to say Sun­day that he emerged with­out trou­ble from his three-week hia­tus with shoul­der bur­si­tis, af­ter two bullpen ses­sions and no re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion starts.

Against a loaded Tigers lineup, in the de­cid­ing game of a se­ries chock-full of play­off im­pli­ca­tions, it was touch-and-go in the first in­ning or so, with Till­man miss­ing badly with his con­trol. He threw high to his arm side, pulled pitches to miss low across his body and strug­gled to find his de­liv­ery. Even when he was in the strike zone, he was miss­ing high, a dan­ger­ous propo­si­tion against the Tigers.

At least early, the per­for­mance seemed to mir­ror his Aug. 20 start against the Hous­ton Astros, in which he walked five bat­ters and al­lowed six runs in two in­nings. The trip to the DL be­gan shortly there­after.

Till­man said that even as his start was un­fold­ing, he was sure that rust, not in­juries, had caused him to search for con­trol early. He said the same af­ter he strug­gled against Hous­ton.

“I could tell by the way it feels,” Till­man said. “It was the same way in the bullpen. It got bet­ter ev­ery bullpen, but it’s just a feel thing for me. It was def­i­nitely a lit­tle bit of rust there, but I felt like we were able to work through it and make pitches when we had to. I made some big pitches in some big sit­u­a­tions and was for­tu­nate enough to get through that one.”

He es­tab­lished him­self grad­u­ally af­ter that first in­ning. The third in­ning al­most went side­ways af­ter a lead­off dou­ble by third base­man Erick Ay­bar, but cen­ter fielder Adam Jones made a pair of spec­tac­u­lar catches to leave him at se­cond base.

The only blem­ish on Till­man’s af­ter­noon came when left fielder Justin Up­ton led off the fifth Ori­oles starter Chris Till­man said he “made some big pitches in some big sit­u­a­tions” af­ter strug­gling early with his con­trol. in­ning with a walk, then came around to score af­ter two-out sin­gles by short­stop Jose Igle­sias and se­cond base­man Ian Kinsler.

His com­mand of his fast­ball came along by the end of the out­ing, com­ple­mented by a break­ing ball that re­sulted in sev­eral outs and by a changeup that kept the Tigers off bal­ance all day.

Till­man started the sixth in­ning with 89 pitches but needed just 16 to re­tire the heart of Detroit’s or­der for a third time and se­cure a qual­ity start. He left hav­ing al­lowed a run on four hits with a walk and four strike­outs.

Even so, Showal­ter said there was con­stant ten­sion in the dugout.

“We watch ev­ery pitch, ev­ery fa­cial ex­pres­sion,” Showal­ter said. “[If ] you know Chris as well as we do, you’re on top of it. You’re not walk­ing to him af­ter ev­ery pitch [ask­ing], ‘How­does that feel? How does this feel? How­does that feel?’ Pitch­ers don’t want that. He’ll tell us. He’s ma­ture and he knows. He told us last time. You build that trust with the play­ers be­cause they want to be in a po­si­tion to con­trib­ute, and if they’re not feel­ing well, they can’t.”

Till­man des­per­ately wants to be. He said life on the DLis bor­ing, and con­sid­er­ing that this most re­cent trip might have cost him a chance to be­come a 20-game win­ner, he was glad to be back and help the Ori­oles win a big game and a big se­ries.

But there’s no cel­e­bra­tion over their top starter’s sta­tus, at least not yet.

“I’ll just see how I feel,” Till­man said. “When this first kind of cropped up, I pitched in Oak­land and felt fine, then the next day, it wasn’t all that hot. I’ll just see how I feel. Signs are point­ing good, but we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes.”

PAUL SAN­CYA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

PAUL SAN­CYA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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