Starter Chris Tillman turned in perhaps the best start of 2013 thus far for the Baltimore Orioles in last night’s win over Toronto. Tillman’s line: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 3 K. Tillman appeared poised to go deeper into the game, however as soon as Toronto tied the game at one in the top of the seventh on Cory Rasmus‘ RBI-single Buck Showalter emerged from the dugout to lift him in favor of Darren O’Day. The necessity of a doubleheader probably came at the worst possible time for the Orioles this past weekend given that they had a starter in Jake Arrieta who was teetering on being sent down as it was (more on that below), their starters already weren’t going deep in games, and they had a west coast trip looming over their heads later this week. However Tillman’s outing last night gave a swift shot in the arm to the bullpen, which was very much needed.
While the Orioles had numerous guys on base throughout the early part of the game, Tillman was matched pitch for pitch by Toronto’s J.A. Happ. In terms of difficulties, both guys were easily able to pitch out of any mini-jams that occurred. Cold temperatures like we saw at the yard last night will generally favor pitchers to a point, so this doesn’t totally come as a surprise. However Manny Machado led off the last of the sixth with a single, followed by one from Adam Jones. Happ then threw a wild pitch, which enabled both runners to advance into scoring position. Chris Davis‘ sac fly scored Machado from third, and the Orioles had a 1-0 lead. However Juan Encarnacion scored from second in the top of the seventh on the above-mentioned Cory Rasums RBI-single, tying the game and chasing Tillman.
This game had the makings of late-inning heroics by someone, and sure enough it took an error by Toronto to make it happen. After Jim Johnson shut down Toronto in the top of the ninth, Chris Davis led off the last of the inning by getting hit by a pitch. He was sacrificed to second base by J.J. Hardy, and with two outs Toronto opted to intentionally walk Nolan Reimold (with first base open). Alexi Casilla grounded to the shortstop Munenori Kawasaki for what appeared to be the third out of the inning. However Kawasaki’s throw was a bit off the bag at first and Casilla was called safe. That turned the lineup over to Nick Markakis, who with two strikes sent a liner the opposite way scoring Davis and winning the game for the Orioles.
This was one of those grinding AL East games, however the good news as I said is that the Orioles used about as few relievers as they could. Tillman was spectacular, and he appeared in his old form from last year. He’s now taxed with continuing that momentum into his next start which will presumably be Saturday afternoon in Oakland.
Prior to yesterday’s game the Orioles made a roster move, sending Jake Arrieta down to triple-A Norfolk and recalling reliever Alex Burnett. Arrieta of course is having trouble locating his pitches consistently, and as I said he’s probably been teetering on being sent down for some time. I think we’ll see him again, and sooner rather than later. Buck Showalter seemed to indicate that another roster move (probably involving Burnett) would be made prior to tomorrow afternoon’s series finale with Toronto, as the Orioles are in need of a starter. Presumably southpaw Zach Britton is probably in the running for the call up. So for the moment Burnett, who was signed on April 12th, is acting as support in the bullpen for the Orioles. The Birds certainly hope that he stays out there rather than having to be summoned into a game.
In game two of the series this evening, Miguel Gonzalez will attempt to do what Tillman did last night in his start against Toronto. However he’ll be opposed by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who hasn’t been quite as sharp since coming over from the NY Mets. Be that as it may, the Orioles are notoriously bad at facing knuckleballers, and when they faced Dickey in Queens last season during interleague play he pitched a three-hit shutout. The scary thing for the O’s is that experts often say that it can take up to a week to recover from facing a knuckler in terms of getting your normal swing back, and that was certainly the case last season when they faced Dickey. However you have to play the hand you’ve been dealt, and that means the O’s will have to take their crack at Dickey and Toronto again tonight.