Chris Tillman showed up to pitch last night at Progressive Field in Cleveland…not the evil twin that we saw in Minneapolis. Tillman’s line: 6.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K. Tillman gave up a first inning home run (of the solo variety) to Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland’s lead off batter. The pitch to Choo was the usual story on home runs; a fastball that was hung in the middle of the plate. However Tillman settled down nicely after that. In listening to WBAL’s pregame show before the game last night they mentioned that in the Minnesota start Tillman couldn’t change speeds successfully, which meant that the opponent could just sit on a fastball. That was not the case last night, as Tillman was able to get all of his pitches over for strikes.
The last four games really illustrate the need for good starting pitching. In succession, the Birds have gotten quality starts from Tommy Hunter, Wei-Yin Chen (both in Minnesota), Miguel Gonzalez, and then Tillman last night. This is generally true of all teams in that only you’ll go as far as your starting pitching will take you. It’s also no coincidence that the bullpen seems to have smoothed out a bit since the starting pitching has started to be able to go deeper into games again. A lot of that is admittedly a mental aspect; as a reliever if you’re coming in and you know you’re being asked to go long into the game (against a team that’s already tee’d off on your starter and thus has some confidence brewing) there’s a bit of added pressure on you. If you’re coming in knowing that you’re just there for an inning or even just one hitter (and your team has moxie on their side) you might tend to relax.
Cleveland starter Zach McAllister pitched a pretty good game of his own, although he showed similar characteristics that we’ve seen with Oriole pitchers before: no run support and harmed by the long ball. J.J. Hardy (who has come out of his slump for the record) hit a single in the 7th inning which brought Jim Thome to the plate with one on and nobody out. “Big Jim” (as Bill Ripken called him last week) once again announced his return to his old stomping grounds of Cleveland by sending one into the right field grandstand, and giving the Orioles a 2-1 lead. Here’s the other thing about Jim Thome that’s been said time and time again: he’s the ultimate team player. In watching MASN’s O’s Xtra postgame show, this was very evident in his interview with Tom Davis. The only time he really talked about himself was when asked if he was considering retirement after the season. Mike Bordick said it best when he said that if Thome doesn’t hit another home run with the Orioles, his contribution to this team would still be very valuable. The likes of Ryan Flaherty, Chris Davis, Chris Tillman, et al need to observe the way that Thome conducts himself on and off the field and take a little bit of that with them. He’s the epitome of what a big league ballplayer should be.
Speaking of Ryan Flaherty, he gave the Orioles an insurance run with his 8th inning solo home run. (The O’s are 2-0 when Big Jim and Flaherty both homer in the game…just saying!) Johnny Damon was able to give Cleveland hopes of a late rally in the last of the 9th when he got on with a two-out single, however Jim Johnson closed the door by getting Casey Kotchman to ground out. So the Orioles are going back to their old formula of winning it seems; a couple of home runs and solid starting pitching. Granted they would have a much more balanced offense if they could manufacture a few more runs, however after a stretch where they lost so many games as a result of not hitting home runs I don’t hear many people complaining this time around. What was Al Davis’ line?…Just win baby!
This is a four-game series in Cleveland (culminating with a game Monday night), and the Orioles are already guaranteed a split on this road trip. That means that if they can take either today’s or tomorrow night’s game they can return home to meet the Tampa Rays, a division foe that appears to be in a small funk. For whatever reason Cleveland is foregoing the normal 1 or 1:30 PM Sunday start time in this afternoon’s game, as today’s game starts at 3:oo PM. (I’ve been trying to figure out why that is, however I’ve been unsuccessful to this point!) Southpaw Zach Britton will head back to the mound for the Birds this afternoon after surrendering a career-high six walks in his previous start in Minneapolis. Britton will not only be taxed with improving over that start, however also with keeping the Orioles’ string of consecutive quality starts in line. He’ll be opposed by Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin, who beat the Orioles back on June 30th but gave up five runs on six innings. Perhaps this is where the O’s start to manufacture runs again.
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