07/30/09 12:50 AM ET
Orioles top Royals in Tillman's debut
Zaun guides right-hander through first big league game
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
The Orioles played through one of their most heralded promotions in recent years Wednesday, when they called up top prospect Chris Tillman from Triple-A Norfolk to make his Major League debut. Tillman, the fourth-youngest Orioles pitcher since 1968, held his own, but he earned a no-decision in Baltimore's 7-3 win over Kansas City.
And after the game, Tillman was the foremost topic on anyone's mind in the O's clubhouse. The Orioles already had seen his rotation mates from last year's team at Double-A Bowie -- names like Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez and Jason Berken -- but Tillman's promotion presented a prospect of another wattage entirely.
"The thing I was most impressed with was his poise," said catcher Gregg Zaun. "It doesn't surprise me, because he seems to be a pretty mild-mannered kid. He's not real gregarious or high strung, and when you couple that with the kind of stuff that he has, I'm sure he believes in himself quite a bit. The results will get better and better as he gets more comfortable. And he's in the right place. There was nothing left to challenge him at Triple-A."
That point became evident early, when the youngster got knocked around Camden Yards in the first two innings. Tillman, who had allowed just five home runs in 18 starts for Norfolk, allowed three solo shots on Wednesday. The 21-year-old was given a two-run lead in the first inning, but he trailed by one run when he left in the fifth.
And even the outs were hit hard, with center fielder Adam Jones making a spectacular play on a line drive over his head in the first inning. Tillman got seven fly balls in the first four innings and didn't get a ground-ball out until a double play in the fifth.
Afterwards, the right-hander talked about what the evening meant to him.
"I was excited going in the game, a little nervous at the beginning," said Tillman. "But after that first inning, it felt good. It felt like I had my feet underneath me a little bit. I still feel like I tried to do a little too much, but the first inning, I was definitely a lot more nervous than I have been in the past."
Switch-hitter Alberto Callaspo delivered the first of Kansas City's home runs in the second inning, and Miguel Olivo added a solo shot just two batters later. Designated hitter Mike Jacobs reached Tillman for a dinger onto Eutaw Street in the fourth inning, but Zaun said he was pleased with the way Tillman kept attacking.
"He handled himself extremely well," said the veteran backstop. "He asked intelligent questions in between innings, and you could see why the organization is so high on him. He has an above-average curveball and a great changeup. It's not a put-it-in-play changeup -- it's a swing-and-miss changeup. And the fastball is plus. He throws real hard. It's fairly straight, so the command of it's going to have to get pretty good. But I saw a lot of good things."
|"He handled himself extremely well. He asked intelligent questions in between innings, and you could see why the organization is so high on him."|
-- Gregg Zaun,|
on Chris Tillman
The Orioles (43-57) scored two runs off Kansas City starter Zack Greinke, but they didn't push ahead until reliever Robinson Tejeda entered the game. Tejeda (1-1) walked both batters he faced in the seventh, and John Bale allowed the hits to Jones and Markakis that put Baltimore ahead and turned Albers (2-4) into the pitcher of record.
"Their bullpen shut us down the first two nights, and tonight they didn't," said Jones, who has homered in the first inning of three straight games. "It was a matter of time, because, like I said, we can hit. It's just a matter of good pitching and situations where we weren't getting the job done -- and the last two innings we did."
Tillman, who was acquired from the Mariners in last season's Erik Bedard trade, is younger than all but four Orioles pitchers who have made their debut in the last four decades. Matt Riley, Storm Davis and Hayden Penn all made their big league debuts before their 21st birthday, beating Tillman by 200 days in the process.
Still, that youth is no sure indicator of future success. While Davis had a long career that resulted in a 113-96 record, Penn and Riley have been derailed by injuries and misfortune and have combined for nine wins and 10 losses. Baltimore, in fact, traded Penn to Florida in Spring Training for shortstop Robert Andino.
O's manager Dave Trembley lauded Tillman for his poise and said he could think of nobody better than Zaun -- a 14-year Major League veteran -- to usher him through his first game. The skipper had come under fire for not pairing rookie Matt Wieters with Tillman, but he felt the final results made most of his case for him.
"Who better to catch a guy in his Major League debut?" Trembley asked. "A guy who's been through the wars, a guy who knows what it's all about, a guy who's been there, done it. That's why he's here -- to help those guys. And every guy that he's caught making his Major League debut, we've won. ... Case closed on that one."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.