Tillman optioned to Norfolk

Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, with plans for the 23-year-old to be stretched back out as a starter. There was some thought to keeping Tillman in the Opening Day bullpen, particularly given his impressive spring, but manager Buck Showalter confirmed Saturday that the plan is for him to still start.

Tillman allowed five runs (four earned) on 12 hits and three walks with six strikeouts over 12 1/3 innings. He last pitched three innings against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, giving up a run on three hits and a walk in one of his worth outings this spring.

“He’s made strides, and keep in mind he’s still one of the young guys in camp pitching-wise,” Showalter said.  “But Tillman, the maturity level, everything, he’s so close to putting it together. He understands. but there’s a reason why he stayed here as long as he did. He’s made a lot of strides, I like where he is. I expect him to have a good year.

Tillman will throw in the Minor League game, opposite Tommy Hunter, on Sunday with the plan for him to go five innings.

The move leaves the Orioles with 15 pitchers for 12 spots. Assuming the rotation is Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Hunter and Brian Matusz, and the bullpen has Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg, Luis Ayala, Matt Lindstrom and Pedro Strop, you are looking at two spots between five guys.

Tsuyoshi Wada could start the season on the disabled list, and the preference remains for him to be used as a starter so you’re down to four guys for two spots: Darren O’Day, Pat Neshek, Troy Patton and Zach Phillips. Patton is out of options –meaning he would have to clear waivers if he doesn’t make the team — while Phillips has had an impressive spring and is looked at as a favorite to make the team. Both Neshek and O’Day can be sent down to the Minor Leagues without being exposed to waivers.

So, it looks most likely that the team’s bullpen will include Patton and Phillips, with one of them possibly stretching out to help bridge as a long reliever if needed. With Alfredo Simon being placed on outright waivers and Tillman being optioned the Orioles’ bullpen –as presently constructed — has no long reliever. Showalter said the club has had most of their relievers pitch two-inning stints and back-to-back and Luis Ayala is another option to pitch multiple innings if needed.

“Hopefully our starting pitching is deep enough where we don’t have to do that, but we know every club is going to have some of that,” Showalter said. “It’s part of deciding on the final spots in the bullpen.”

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