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Tillman? Not So Fast.

Presumptive fifth starter Chris Tillman might not be.

That’s the word via Britt Ghiroli, echoed by Roch. An impressive performance by David Hernandez today (five shutout innings versus the Red Sox, including escape from a bases-loaded, no-out jam) put the heat on Tillman, who struggled Friday. Jason Berken has stayed strong, as well, and remains in the mix.

DT says they’ll keep the competition open as long as possible and that no decision has yet been made. Don’t be surprised if it goes down to the last day of camp.

If you want the “best five” opening the season, you go with Hernandez. He’s got better stuff than Berken and has performed better this spring than Tillman. Given that all three were more or less the same in big league time last year, he’s got the edge. He’s also a few years older than Tillman and has more overall experience. It’s in the minors, yes, but he’s faced more batters.

That’s the way I’d go, and part of the reason is I’m not sure that handing Tillman a spot is the right idea. I don’t think it sends the right message to say “you were second, possibly third best in camp, but you’re our guy so you get the job.”

Looking at it another way, try to take Tillman’s pedigree as a top prospect and set it aside. Try to imagine that he came into camp as Hernandez’ equal. If that’s the scenario, who earned it?

Tillman will get his shot. We all know that. There’s no reason to force it, especially considering that we also know the O’s will need more than five starters this year. Let him head to AAA and continue proving he’s ready, then give him a spot when the time (inevitably) comes.

In the meantime, why not see what we really have with Hernandez?

26 comments to Tillman? Not So Fast.

  • I agree with you 100%. Tillman could use some more AAA time which should help him in the long run. Hernandez already has experience.

  • Andrew

    I won’t be surprised if they send Tillman back down to AAA in favor of Hernandez, but I will be disappointed. Not as disappointed as if they sent both of them down in favor of Jason Berken, but I don’t see that as a realistic possibility (thank God).

    That’s not a knock on David Hernandez, although I’ve never been very high on the guy. I would very much like him to be on the team as well, but he’s a victim of the numbers crunch. And he needs to show me something meaningful anyway. I mean, wow, Trembley just told him not to pitch up so much after last season and he flicked a lightswitch on and is suddenly a major league capable pitcher? I find that just a little hard to believe.

    Which brings me to reason number one why Tillman is the right answer for the fifth starter job. The basis for the decision is entirely Spring Training results, and that blows chunks. It’s like the worst way in the world to assess someone. Now Tillman’s fate is 100% reliant on how he pitches his next time out? I’m calling bullshit.

    Two is that Tillman mastered AAA last year. He dominated. He’s past that level, and sooner or later he’s going to have to come up to Baltimore and adjust to major league hitters. I’d rather do it now, when winning isn’t the priority and you have your expensive mentor leading the staff to help him out (actually it’s mostly the winning thing). Can Millwood mentor from two states away?

    Three is this video right here. Everyone seems to have forgotten that this kid IS special in lieu of “forget their pedigrees for a second”.

    Hypothetical question: if Brian Matusz has two more outings this spring and gets completely lit up both times, would you want David Hernandez taking his place in the rotation?

  • neal s

    @Andrew – Interesting question about Matusz vs. Hernandez.

    Of course I wouldn’t take the latter over the former, but it’s not exactly a fair question. Matusz is a more established player, and he (Bergesen too, for that matter) already earned his spot. Tillman was only the presumptive fifth starter — it’s not as if his performance last year locked that down.

    Kranitz and DT are watching these guys every day and will make the call accordingly. I’m sure the numbers will factor into that but I doubt they’ll get an undue amount of weight. They’re going to pick the guy they think will perform best out of the gate, and I think that’s as it should be.

  • Greg

    Tillman is 21. Hernandez is almost 25. If the Orioles think Hernandez can be a major league pitcher they need to find it out now rather than later. Tillman can spend time in AAA and work on his control, and there isn’t any doubt he’ll be back in Baltimore in no time. Pitchers have a way of using the Baltimore starting position as a revolving door. If Tillman is sent down in favor of Hernandez, I won’t complain.

  • dan the man

    I won’t complain either, but it will be interesting to see if Hernandez’s spring performance translate over to the big leagues. But although spring stats shouldn’t really determine roster spots, it’s pretty clear who has the better control at this point.

    I would rather not have Tillman make the team and nibble. Go learn that cutter. Go work on having better command. We have the luxury to not rush our top pitching prospects, especially if they are being outperformed by other pitching prospects.

    I could go either way. It’ll be interesting to watch.

  • Andrew

    You make some good points, and Rob Neyer makes the best point when he says that it probably doesn’t matter who wins, because as long as they pitch well, we’ll see both of them in Baltimore this summer. And if they don’t, we’ve got a lot more where that came from.

    I’ll still be disappointed. But if this is the worst decision made this year, we’re in for a treat. This is depth (like you all are saying), and depth is real, real nice.

  • dan the man

    Yeah and if Tillman’s makeup is as good as they say, it won’t hurt his confidence being sent down, hopefully. Hell, before too long, he could be replacing Guthrie in the rotation. Big test for Guts tonight against the Yanks.

    As a side note, I find it interesting that the Sun came out with that article basically “calling” that Hernandez is the 5th starter, among other things like Pie getting the opening day start in LF, without really having it be confirmed. Seems a little premature to be stating all that with such confidence, but then again they certainly have more access than I do.

    I was intrigued by Berken’s 4 scoreless innings the other day and I think if they can find a way to fit him in the bullpen as a long man, they should do that. We gotta have more than just Hendrickson, especially early on. Apparently Berken’s slider and nerves are better in check this year (believe it when I see it, but still), and I could certainly see him succeeding out of the pen moreso than the rotation. If Koji was magically healthy, would you take Berken in the pen over someone like Albers/Mickolio? I think I would.

    In my opinion, Albers should be traded before the season. I like the guy, but there’s injury concerns, fitness concerns, and effectiveness concerns. He’s also out of options, and being pushed out the door by better talents like Mickolio. But he’s still got a solid enough track record to be attractive to a team that really needs a solid bullpen guy. If you can get maybe some 2B/SS depth with him or a low level pitcher, I say why not?

  • Andrew

    @dan the man – I think we need to stop putting so much weight on Spring Training statistics already. Berken beat up a minor league Twins lineup late in a ST game. So what? Are we forgetting that he was so very, very bad all last year that Joe Posnanski named him the Worst Pitcher in the AL?

    I’d rather hold on to Albers at least for the time being. He did put up a sub-4.00 FIP last year. I’m not sure what you could really get for him right now that would make a trade really worthwhile anyway.

  • dan the man

    I mean, yeah, you’re right about the ST stats. Mainly though, I’m thinking more about the long relief situation than I am about ST stats. Albers can’t be stretched out like he used to, and Berken is as good a candidate to be a long reliever as any. Not saying he’s a lock to be awesome in that role, but I think he’s worth a shot if they feel the need to go with 2 long relievers.

    Or.. DT could ride out his starters a little more, which I think he should do.

  • Greg

    Albers’ career regular season statistics show him to be a league average relief pitcher. He blows games as much as he is able to hand off the next inning without any damage done. He’s completely replaceable, yet not a hindrance. He’s serviceable to be in the bullpen for 2010, but his good spring training isn’t evidence that he’s turned himself around or anything.

    The jury is still out on Berken; he just got his feet wet last year after making a huge jump to the MLB from Bowie. He never had dominating stuff, and was frankly a little old to be in Bowie anyway… but his ERA was low and he was getting the job done; he was not only lucky to be a part of an organization where starting jobs are frequently vacated, but he also had the numbers where even if you weren’t a prospect, all the O’s were looking for was “a few good men”.

    Hernandez has the Oriole’s brass fooled by shiny K stats; he’s got control issues he needs to work on. He’s Sarfate Lite. He’s a serviceable #5, but I doubt that if given regular starts he’ll manage anything under a 4.50 ERA. He, like Berken, is fortunate to have a gig in system where anyone who can throw a strike is a breath of fresh air.

    All I’m saying is that these two guys are average at best and the fifth pitcher this year is going to somewhat of a smudge no matter who pitches there; Berken, Hernandez or Tillman.

  • Andrew

    @Greg – I agree, which is why I’d give it to the guy with the most potential to harness the opportunity as a springboard into 2011. Still, there is a part of me that wants to see if Hernandez is just the guy who didn’t impress me in Bowie and really didn’t impress me in Baltimore last year, or if he can possibly turn those K numbers into something meaningful. It’s hard to ignore them shiny numbers.

    To be fair though, Tillman was better in Baltimore last year, has way more potential, and would in my opinion benefit more from being in the show. But the counter-arguments are pretty sound and I’m not as full of gusto for this as I was last night.

    Berken is another story. The guy is completely unproven above AA ball. I’m not letting him take someone else’s roster spot in Baltimore because he threw four scoreless innings in Spring Training. Let him go down and show the Orioles with their newfound sense of “guys compete for the spots, not the spots compete for the guys” that he can be good in actual game situations.

  • Tillman is young and he struggled to find consistency last season. If Hernandez won the job, then good for him.

    I hope Tillman develops as predicted, but these big pitchers worry me. They often seem to struggle with location and repeating the movements that the average sized guys can do.

  • dan the man

    I’m rooting for Jeremy Guthrie.

    I feel like the majority of O’s fans are ready to dump this guy and call him a terrible pitcher when only 2 years ago he was the only good pitcher in the rotation.

    It’s tough, though, because now he’s got a $3mil price tag, there’s quality young pitching ready to take his place, and it’s tough to swallow sending him out there when this year is supposed to be about more wins. Clearly he’s the weakest pitcher of the 5, but something has to be said for track record and innings, right? I get why everyone wants him gone Right Now, but the truth is, this is year isn’t about wins. I’m ok with giving him like 5 starts to see if he can find it.

    You have to wonder, though, if Guthrie is really just that guy that Cleveland finally gave up on. That’d be a shame.

  • Andrew

    @dan the man – I just think it’s hysterical that the average Orioles fan is ready to drop-kick Guthrie when “only two years ago he was pretty great!”, but everyone has nothing but total faith in Garret Atkins because “only two years ago he was pretty great!”

  • dan the man

    I am, however, not really pleased with DT’s comments after the game regarding Guts. He said things like “his control was better” when he walked 4 dudes and hit 2. Maybe he meant it was better as he went along, which is true. But something tells me DT is going out of his way to not be critical, and that makes me wonder if Guthrie’s confidence is shot, which is a popular media rumor that’s been floating around. I almost want Trembley to call him out a little bit like the Rangers did with Millwood. Just pitch better and stop dicking around or you’re gonna get the cut.

    It was also interesting to hear Joe Angel say that he was talking to Millwood who said that Guthrie needs to be “meaner” on the mound and attack more inside. And then he goes and hits two guys, so I wonder if he was experimenting with that.

  • sci

    @Andrew – I think it’s an exaggeration to say “everyone has nothing but total faith in Garret Atkins.” I have not talked to one person (maybe you have?) who has that kind of total faith about him. I certainly don’t. There’s hope based on the past, but that’s about it. And there’s nothing wrong with hoping, considering he is the first baseman this year regardless.

    Re: Guthrie, I think he has just completely lost his confidence. Not sure why, but he always looks tentative up there now. If he can string together some decent starts, he might gain it back, but sometimes it never comes back. He’s definitely got the “stuff,” but who knows?

  • dan the man

    @Andrew – I’m not sure I agree that every Orioles fan has complete faith in Atkins. Shoot, one trip around the message boards and blogs should tell you otherwise. It’s a questionable, if low-risk, signing. I’m crossing my fingers. I like to think if Crow can fix Pie, he can fix a former professional hitter of Atkins’ caliber, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Andrew

    Just being hyperbolic, fellas. I’m not in the best mood after I saw the presumptive roster decisions.

    I can’t say I’ve noticed anything different about Guthrie besides his results. Why is it that sportswriters always go for the “heart and guts” angle? Not saying it’s not right (it very possibly is right), but you know, it’s like always the reason cited by sportswriters.

    Sorry. I’m really in a foul mood. Stupid Orioles.

  • dan the man

    There’s just an interesting vibe around these final days of O’s ST. I wouldn’t classify it as “optimism” like in early ST, nor the pessimism that happened around the middle of it. It’s just like, that time when decisions are made and you’re wondering what the effects will be.

    -Hernandez over Tillman
    -looking like Tatum over Moeller
    -Andino over Turner
    -what the hell is up with Guthrie
    -hoping that Millwood comes as advertised
    -Pie gets the OD start

    It’s like you’re about to jump off that cliff and it could be a fun ride or it could break your legs. Nervous anticipation.

    On Tatum, I find it interesting if he’s chosen over Moeller. It certainly would not be my move, considering how much the O’s obviously like Moeller and the experience he brings. Is being able to throw out a base runner more important than everything Moeller brings to the table? I tend to not think so. Maybe they have some other plan for Moeller like working with Tillman in AAA.

    Bottom line: I’m just anxious to see how this team plays out.

  • dan the man

    @Andrew – I agree on the “guts” thing, at least sometimes. For example, I’m tired of hearing that Guthrie is a nice guy. I’ll always take being an asshole and winning over being a nice guy and sucking. That said, I’m still ok with giving Guthrie a shot. After all, ST numbers are ST numbers.

  • dan the man

    http://www.masnsports.com/index_blog_roch.html

    Certainly doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the Tatum over Moeller decision. It just seems to go against The Plan. I mean, if the pitchers are more comfortable with Moeller, and he knows the AL East hitters, wouldn’t you want that guy?

    Then again, it’s just the backup catcher, and having Tatum sort of lets you know they want to take the training wheels off of Wieters. But still… the young pitching thing. It’s curious to say the least.

  • sci

    I definitely find that catcher decision suspect, but it’s just backup catcher after all. Re: Berken in the bullpen — as long as he’s just a placeholder for Koji until he’s healthy (will that ever happen?), I think it’s fine. Hernandez over Tillman — interesting, but if Tillman tears it up at AAA and Hernandez struggles, it’s an easy swap. Let’s see what happens…

  • Andrew

    Pitcher-catcher relationships are overanalyzed and overvalued. Especially backup catchers. Neither of these guys can hit at all, so you might as well go with the better defensive option. Besides, the cavalry is apparently going to be mostly in AAA to start the year, might as well send their favorite catcher down with them.

    I’m ok with the Berken thing, since he was destined for mop-up duty sooner or later. You have to assume someone else would have to stumble pretty mightily for Berken to stick around once Koji’s ready to go.

  • dan the man

    @Andrew – I generally agree about the backup catcher thing. I still find it curious, though, since it seems to go against the grain of what’s been going on here the last few years. But overall, meh.

    So if you’re ok with Tatum and you’re ok with Berken (if he makes the team), is it just the Hernandez thing that you are pissed about? Seems to me the O’s should figure out if he’s legit or not. If not, Tillman’s right there. Or if he is, and Guthrie sucks, Tillman’s still right there.

  • Andrew

    @dan the man – Yeah I know. I’m a little surprised that I’m really upset at all. And I know that odds are Tillman replaces Hernandez within a month anyway. But damn it, the idea that one guy didn’t “earn” his spot in Spring Training really rubs me the wrong way. It says that the Orioles’ priorities aren’t what I think they need to be at this point.

  • sci

    At least “The Cla” seems to have made the team. We can all be pleased about that, I hope.