BALTIMORE -- Heading into Spring Training, things are a little different for Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman. But the 24-year-old -- who is coming off a career year despite spending the first half in Triple-A -- said he will try to approach next month's camp with the same mindset.
"It's going to be different, but I know what I've got to do this spring," said Tillman, who set career highs in nearly every statistical category, including wins (nine), ERA (2.93), games started (15) and quality starts (nine). "Last year, I was kind of trying to find myself still. I know exactly what I need to do now. I know what I need to do to get myself to where I need to be for April 1. That's my goal, April 1, and not the beginning of spring."
Tillman is well aware of the Orioles' surplus of starting-pitching candidates, and the competition should be one of the most closely contested competitions this spring. Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen figure to have spots, and Miguel Gonzalez -- like Tillman -- is coming off an impressive half-season's worth of starts. Right-hander Steve Johnson will also get a chance after a successful 2012, with last year's Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter also all in the mix.
Tsuyoshi Wada will be slowed and rehabbing from last year's Tommy John surgery, but he could be a factor later in the season, as could top pitching prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has also said the club will look at Rule 5 Draft pick T.J. McFarland as a starter this spring.
"It's going to be a battle any way you look at it," Tillman said. "We've got a bunch of guys coming in, and that's what makes it fun, to tell you the truth, is being able to compete. You lose that edge [and] then it takes the fun out of it. So, I'm excited about it."
Tillman's improved velocity last spring -- his fastball touched 97 mph -- was impressive and he was one of the last waves of spring cuts after a solid Grapefruit League campaign. He was promoted to the Orioles after going 8-8 with a 3.63 ERA in 16 games for Triple-A Norfolk and Tillman -- with a new and improved delivery -- became one of the team's best starters down the stretch, winning eight of his final 14 games.
"It does help," Tillman said of his success last season. "It's more of a confidence thing. You get those games under your belt, you get that experience under your belt, and it gives you the feeling that you can go out there and get the job done, no matter who you're facing or who you're pitching against. It's big going into the offseason and you get to relax a little bit, but at the same time, you know what you've got to do to get ready for Spring Training."
Tillman has been working out with special assistant Brady Anderson for about two months and said at Saturday's FanFest that the end of the season -- which culminated with a loss to the Yankees in the American League Division Series -- was bittersweet.
"That last game left not a very good taste in your mouth, and I feel like we really want to get back after it just for that reason," Tillman said of an Orioles club returning everyone from last season. "You can't let it weigh you down, but at the same time, it's in the back of your head, knowing that you want to be that much better so it doesn't happen again."