SARASOTA, Fla. – Buck Showalter called Chris Tillman into his office on Monday afternoon and gave him the expected news. Tillman will start the March 31 opener against the Boston Red Sox.
“It’s a reward,” Showalter said.
A reward for his breakout 2013 season when he went 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA. Perhaps a reward for the Orioles’ patience.
Tillman was acquired in 2008 from Seattle, and went 7-15 in his first three major league seasons. In 2011, Tillman was good enough to be on the 25-man roster to start the season, but not good enough to be recalled from Norfolk in September.
It wasn’t until July 2012 that Tillman came to the Orioles for good and began justifying all the high hopes.
He was 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA two years ago and followed it up last year. He was recognized with an All-Star Game selection last year.
“There are things about Chris you can't put on paper,” Showalter said. “He’s a competitive guy. You see a different look on his face on game day. He’s been around some good people. He’s figured out who he is. He’s comfortable in his own skin, and I think he likes people counting on him.”
Tillman took the news in stride, Showalter said.
“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 was hoping it would be him to face the Boston Red Sox in two weeks.
“Any time you get the chance to get that kind of opportunity it’s a big deal. 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,” Tillman said.
Tillman will turn 26 on Apr. 15, and he knows there will be pressure.
“All the hype of opening day, yeah. 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 said.
“It's definitely a big honor and you've got to earn it. But at the same time we've got five guys here who are all capable of doing it. I think that's what's special to me. I was the guy that was chosen, the one they want to go out there and run with it get this thing going in the right direction.”
Showalter also considered Ubaldo Jimenez, the high-priced free agent who signed last month, but because he hasn’t thrown as many innings as Tillman this spring, the idea was dismissed.
“It’s nice to have an option,” Showalter said. “I’m hoping in the future it gets harder and harder to pick the one.”
Tillman will become the fifth different Orioles Opening Day starter in as many years. Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta, Jeremy Guthrie and Kevin Millwood are the others.
Showalter has long championed Tillman and is delighted that he had the opportunity to tell him the good news.
“I'm proud of him. He deserves it,” Showalter said.