Tillman Opening Day starter, Jimenez second

SARASOTA, Fla.— There was no long drawn-out discussion, fanfare in the clubhouse or really any indication that Monday was any day out of the ordinary this spring for right-hander Chris Tillman. And perhaps that’s part of the reason manager Buck Showalter knew he had his guy, officially naming Tillman the Orioles Opening Day starter for Baltimore’s March 31 home contest against the Boston Red Sox.

“Around the corner, he will,” Showalter said when asked if Tillman had any reaction to the news, which was a brief 10-second conversation in his office. “I’d love to  ask him, ‘Did you think it was going to be?’ He’s very unassuming. He doesn’t assume anything.”

“But he’s one of those guys who walks out of here and, trust me, he gets it. One thing I got is his face got a little different color.”

Tillman, who will be followed by Ubaldo Jimenez is coming off a breakout season in which he came off the disabled list to pitch the team’s fifth game and went on to go 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA in 33 starts. The 25-year-old Tillman, who won as many games in 2013 as the previous four seasons combined, was named to the American League All-Star team last year and this will be his second Opening Day roster. He pitched the second game for the Orioles in 2011 against the Rays.

“Anytime you get the chance to get that kind of opportunity it’s a big deal,” Tillman said. “Number one, it’s an honor, it’s exciting. At the same time, it’s important for the team to get us started in the right direction, the season going the right way. I think we are all just excited to get this thing going.”

Was Tillman thinking about the possibility that he would be the Orioles Opening Day starter?

“Not at all, to tell you the truth,” he said. “Like I’ve said since Day 1, we’ve got five guys in here capable of doing it. It’s special, but at the same time we got to take it by the horns and run with it. It is an important game.”

Tillman, who is a big routine guy, said he won’t approach it any differently against the defending World Champion Red Sox. He will be opposed by Jon Lester, with Boston sending John Lackey to the mound against Jimenez. With the Orioles opening the season at Camden Yards, Tillman did acknowledge there’s a little extra pressure in pitching that first game.

“All the hype of Opening Day, yeah,” said Tillman, who is the fifth different Oriole in five years and the club’s youngest Opening Day starter since 1994. “Whether you’re sitting in the dugout or pitching, it’s the same thing. There’s pressure for everyone. I’ve been in the dugout and I’ve been more nervous watching than being a part of it. It’s just a matter of getting the team going in the right direction. I think it’s important.

Tillman has become a rock of consistency for the Orioles after struggling in his first few seasons to establish success over an extended period of time. He went back-and-forth from Triple-A Norfolk to Baltimore until finally hitting his stride in July of 2012.

“I don’t think anybody who got to know Chris and see him evolve as a young man, I don’t think that part of it was surprising,” Showalter said of Tillman’s rise since he was acquired in the Erik Bedard deal from Seattle in 2008. “For instance, [former GM] Andy MacPhail a long time ago when he made the deal. People thought this might be where he’d land, and you see it physically and you see the way he carries himself, this is part of the evolution and why people in player development project players. That’s why certain things in the game are a science and certain things down here are viewed as an art. There are things about Chris you can’t put on paper. Running down the hall trying to hide from me so I don’t take him out of the game. Where do you put that on a pie chart? Anyway, I’m proud of him. He deserves it.”

Tillman is 32-25 with a 4.28 ERA in 84 career Major League starts, while Jimenez —signed to a four-year, $52 million contract this spring— will be making his Orioles debut.

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