Tillman on his night

Orioles starter Chris Tillman said he felt strong in his Grapefruit League debut Friday night, a perfect two-inning stint where the 21-year-old struck out three Pirates batters in a row at one point.

“First and foremost, I felt good,” Tillman said. “Got to mix in a little bit of my pitches, mainly fastballs, threw four or 5 offspeed pitches. I was happy with the location of my fastball, that’s what I was working on [Friday night].”

Tillman opened the Orioles first night game at Ed Smith Stadium by retiring Akinori Iwamura on a ground ball back to the mound. He proceeded to send Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones down swinging, and opened the second inning with a strikeout of cleanup hitter Ryan Doumit. Miguel Tejada flashed the leather in just his second start at third, barehanding Steve Pearce’s ball and throwing it cleanly to first for the second out.  

The only ball that left the infield all night was Tillman’s final batter, Brandon Moss, who hit a shallow fly to right field.

The Orioles have designated either a two-inning stint or a 35-pitch threshold, so Tillman’s 33 throws were enough to end his night. Still, the right-hander was pleased with his ability to make the adjustments on his fastball and said he could have gone longer.

“Obviously I could have gone a little more, Tabata made me throw a few pitches there,” Tillman said of the 10-pitch at-bat. “But I felt strong. Even in the last couple pitches of the [second] inning. So, I felt good.”

Tillman’s last game situation was during Monday’s intrasquad contest, where he threw one scoreless inning and totaled 15 pitches.  But Friday’s cold and windy temperature helped put to rest any lingering worries about Tillman’s back. The 21-year-old was pulled out of his Feb. 21 workout early and missed his next scheduled bullpen session after suffering back spasms caused by falling asleep awkwardly on a couch.

Tillman said he didn’t feel any back tightness but took the proper precautions, getting in extra stretching and running out on the field early.  Following Friday’s outing, he planned on getting into the weight room to complete his workout, and was optimistic that his next outing would be 45-50 pitches.

Tillman also said his confidence this spring is like night and day when compared with a year ago.

“After building a relationship with the staff and the players it makes it a whole lot easier on me, and it makes it a lot easier to pitch too,” Tillman said. “Especially with my relationship with me and Wieters, that’s first and foremost, I think. So, it definitely helps. “

The Orioles have high hopes for Tillman, who is projected to be the team’s fifth starter. The 21-year-old  figures to be in a rotation that includes that includes Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen and Brian Matusz.

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