Game 111, Mariners at Orioles
Jason Vargas vs. Chris Tillman, 4:05pm
Chris Tillman’s difficult to figure out. The second piece in the Erik Bedard trade (or maybe the co-#1 piece), Tillman’s raw stuff had scouts drooling, and while his performance record didn’t quite match up to the stuff, he’d been at High Desert for much of it. Moving up to AA in the Orioles system, Tillman put it all together and became one of the game’s best pitching prospects. He was just as solid in AAA, and moved up to the Orioles mid way through 2009.
Like many young hurlers, Tillman got lit up in his first taste of MLB. His stuff was good, but he wasn’t sitting in the mid-90s like he had in 2007-8. His curve was good, but it wasn’t getting swinging strikes like it should (under 9% of curves went for whiffs in 2009 – that’s Blake-Beavan-in-2011 territory). He was a fastball/curve pitcher who didn’t throw a two-seamer and gave up a ton of fly balls and wasn’t missing bats; predictably, he gave up too many long balls, and he started 2010 back in the minors.
When he returned, he was a different pitcher, and that doesn’t mean he’d corrected the flaws in his game. He started out averaging 91-92 with his fastball, but this was down to the high 80s after July. His K rate continued to decline, and he suddenly couldn’t find the strikezone – he finished 2010 with an even K:BB ratio, and his HR rate was *still* terrible. It’s not often that you say that a pitcher with lots of HRs allowed and an RA over 6 got lucky, but Tillman benefitted from a low BABIP that year; this was the only thing that went right for him.
He started 2011 with the Orioles, but struggled again and was sent down a few times. He had a tantalizing boost in velocity after returning from one stint in AAA, but it didn’t last long, and the Orioles gave up after he gave up 6 runs in less than 3 innings to the punchless White Sox. At this point, Tillman was another object lesson in the high failure rate of pitching prospects, a possible waiver wire claim for some team that thought they could ‘fix’ him, or a guy who might benefit from playing in Japan or Korea for a year or two. As it was, the Orioles kept him and after a solid start to 2012 in the minors, he made his debut with the Orioles in early July against the M’s.
You probably remember what happened there – he averaged 95mph with his fastball and showed off a power cutter at 93. The curve had bite, and his change-up wasn’t bad. All told, he carved up the M’s on his way to 8 1/3 IP of shutout ball with 7 Ks and only 2 walks. Here was the Ryan Vogelsong of 2012, the guy who everyone had given up on who finally breaks through after resurrecting his early form. Made for a great story, unless you’re an M’s fan who’s still pissed off about the Bedard trade.
Unfortunately, it may not last. Tillman touched 95 in his second start, but his average dropped a bit. With every subsequent start, it’s dropped more. He hasn’t hit 95 in quite a while, and the average is back in the low-90s. Now that’s better than the 88-89 he was at for much of 2010-11, but it makes it look much less likely that he can sustain the stuff he showed against the M’s a month ago.
The M’s send out a pretty standard line-up against a right-hander like Tillman – Jaso’s back behind the plate and Mike Carp returns to the line-up at 1B. Brendan Ryan’s still out, so the lefty Kawasaki plays SS.
2: Saunders (CF)
3: Montero (DH)
4: Jaso (C)
7: Wells (LF)
8: Thames (RF)
Larry Stone notes that Tony Gwynn Jr. was DFA’d by Milwaukee today, and wonders if Zduriencik wouldn’t bring in a guy he drafted. Dave Cameron points out that there’s not a lot of room for him, particularly with Thames in the squad, but you never know. Zduriencik’s shown some loyalty to guys he drafted for the Brewers, which you can’t really fault when it produces the occasional Tom Wilhelmsen. I’m doubtful Gwynn would be a fit here, no matter who the M’s scouting director is, but I wouldn’t bet any money against it.
The Rainiers are at Cheney tonight taking on the New Orleans Zephyrs. Steve Garrison starts for Tacoma. Not the best of match-ups, prospect wise, but if you’re in the area, just look outside. AA Jackson faces the Tennessee Smokies, as the M’s top prospect Taijuan Walker goes for the Generals. He had one of his worst starts against the Smokies a few weeks back, but he’s psyched up after watching the US Women’s team’s amazing Olympic semi-final against Canada, so I think he’ll be fine tonight. Everett’s in town tonight too, so if you’re in the north end, I’d go see Mike Zunino in balmy 70s-80s temperatures.