The Baltimore Orioles have a pitcher on their hands who appears to be turning into something they haven't had since the days of Mike Mussina.
Chris Tillman is transforming before our eyes, Orioles fans. The 25-year-old who everyone thought was turning out to be a bust a few years ago has put up fantastic numbers in the big leagues since the middle of the 2012 season. For the O's, a team who has had trouble developing pitching for the last 15 years, that's certainly something that they've been desperate to see.
In 27 starts this season, Tillman is 15-4 with a 3.61 ERA. He's thrown 167 innings, allowed 149 hits, walked 57 and struck out 141, while his BAA is .241. His 15 wins are the first time an Orioles pitcher has accomplished that feat since lefty Erik Bedard did it back in 2006, and he'd have at least two more if not for bullpen failures in the late innings. He also made his first career All-Star game.
This solid season coming off of a 2012 half-season where he pitched 86 innings, went 9-3 and had a sparkling 2.93 ERA in helping the Orioles lock down a winning season and playoff spot for the first time since 1997.
Tillman has been making great strides since the pitcher we saw from 2009-2011, who maintained an ERA above 5.00 at all times and had a 7-15 record overall.
The ability has always been there for Tillman. He threw a no-hitter at AAA Norfolk in 2010 and had always dominated the minor leagues, but he could never seem to translate that success to the majors.
Now, Tillman has become a different pitcher, one who goes about his business with confidence and isn't afraid to attack a lineup head-on. He's tossed 18 quality starts this season (a quality start being an outing in which the starter goes at least six innings and gives up three runs or less), and has seven of them in his last 10 outings.
The one problem Tillman still has is getting past six innings in a start on a consistent basis. Admittedly, Tillman can be a little wild in the sense that he works a lot of high-count at-bats; 3-1 counts, 3-2 counts, etc. That ends up hurting Tillman in the innings department because it raises his pitch count.
As I stated before, he's only 25, so he's still relatively young and has time to better himself there. Once he does, not only will he be able to pitch more innings, but it will help his ERA drop even lower because of the extra inning or two he'd be pitching every start.
Would Tillman be considered a "true ace" by the baseball world? Probably not. But for the Baltimore Orioles, he's their ace, and he's only going to get better. His poise and his ability to keep his team in a ballgame no matter how well or poorly his stuff is working on any given day are what gives him that title on the team, not just his 15 win and cool 3.61 ERA.
He's becoming the go-to guy on the squad; the starter who's a stopper. And I know I wouldn't prefer anyone else pitching in a must-win game for the team.
Chris Tillman is becoming the Orioles ace. And it's a wonderful thing to see.