By JAY LeBLANC
The Baltimore Orioles did everything they could to exercise extreme patience with top prospect Chris Tillman. They resisted the urge to promote him last year despite his 11-4 record, 3.18 ERA and 10.22 strikeouts per nine innings in Double-A. They declined to turn to the 21-year-old righty earlier this season even after he got off to a 5-0 start in Triple-A while the big league rotation scuffled, and held firm in recent weeks as Orioles fans clamored for a call-up. The wait - which seemed a lot longer than it actually was, thanks in part to Rich Hill and Jason Berken - is over.
After going 8-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 18 starts for the Norfolk Tides, Tillman is set to make his Major League debut Wednesday night at Camden Yards against All-Star Zack Greinke and the Kansas City Royals. The 6-foot-5 fireballer, who was recently ranked by Baseball America as the eighth-best prospect in baseball, has shown improved command this season and was clearly in need of a greater challenge than International League hitters were offering. With the Orioles out of contention, he’ll have the opportunity to get his feet wet in a low-pressure environment.
As Tillman prepares to remind Seattle Mariners fans just how badly their team got fleeced in the Erik Bedard trade, let’s take a look back at where his head was at last July while he was busy dominating the Eastern League as a member of the Bowie Baysox.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been traded to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard deal?
A: I didn’t really know what to think at first - it was kind of a drawn-out process and it seemed like it took forever. I felt honored because I know how good of a player Erik Bedard is. I know I speak for all the players that came over - we’re all pretty excited to be here.
Q: You struggled at times last season in advanced Class A but you’ve been outstanding this year as one of the youngest players in double-A. What kinds of adjustments did you make?
A: I haven’t really made any adjustments - just trusting my stuff, and everything’s coming together really well. I’ve been coming out on top lately.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: I throw a fastball that I throw 90 percent of the time. I throw a curveball sometimes early in the count, most of the time late in the count, and a change-up every now and then. That’s about it.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you’ve tried to model your approach after?
A: No. My favorite player growing up was Roger Clemens, but I didn’t really model my approach after him.
Q: What are some of the things you’re trying to work on this season?
A: Just fastball command - command of all my pitches, but mostly my fastball command.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Orioles?
A: That’s not up to me. I feel like I’m ready whenever they need me, because that’s my job. I can’t really tell you when - it is what it is, and it’s up to them, not up to me.
Q: Do you feel like there are still some things lacking in your game, or do you feel like you’re close to ready?
A: I feel like I’m close to ready, but I still have to work on a couple more things, and that’s about it.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to view the original Chris Tillman National Pastime Prospect Q&A