Tillman delivers gem as O's take opener in Houston
Right-hander dominates to improve to 5-0 on road as defense shines
HOUSTON -- Chris Tillman, road warrior.
Tillman, unaware of his undefeated stretch entering Tuesday's start, continued his success away from Camden Yards in stifling the Astros over a dominant seven-inning outing. The 113-pitch effort, which highlighted the Orioles' 4-1 win, improves Baltimore to a perfect 5-0 in Tillman's road starts and gives the organization its first win ever in four games in Houston.
"Winning on the road requires discipline," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, whose club is 18-12 away from Baltimore. "They have such a commitment to each other as teammates, they don't want to do anything that jeopardize them being in a position to make a contribution. And Chris has done a good job of that. And if that's maturity, so be it."
The O's, winners of 10 of their last 14, extended their winning streak over Houston to seven games and snapped the Astros' own six-game win streak this season in the process, moving to a season-best eight games over .500. Tillman, facing the Astros for the first time in his career, is now 4-0 with a 2.30 ERA in five road starts versus a 1-2 mark with a 5.31 ERA in seven home games.
"He's learning to calm down that crowd," center fielder Adam Jones said of Tillman, who tied a season high with eight strikeouts and turned in his third outing this season of seven or more innings. "Even when they get rallies, he's learning to take an extra second, gather himself. And the man is going out there and making great pitches. You got [catcher Matt] Wieters back there who is calling a great game and they're on the same page. And it's fun to see.
"I've been around Tillman for the last six, seven years and he's starting to really come into his own at this level. And it's good to see."
Jones helped that effort, making a pair of nice catches in center field and playing the quirky Minute Maid Park's outfield with relative ease.
"Not that we enjoy giving up outs like that but it's fun to watch that guy play," Tillman said of Jones, who made on-the-run grabs to end the second and eighth innings. "Knowing what our defense is capable of behind us, I think we pitch to them."
"He's one of the best center fielders in our league, so you tip your cap to him," Astros manager Bo Porter said of Jones' playing of Tal's hill. "I thought we put some balls in play hard, we just didn't have much success because they played good defense."
Tillman, who has credited in-game adjustments for several successful prior starts, was able to do the same on Tuesday night. Using a fastball that topped out at 95 mph and working in enough offspeed pitches to keep the Astros honest, the right-hander held a Houston club fresh off a four-game sweep in Anaheim to four hits and allowed one run on a solo homer from Brandon Barnes.
Barnes, who made a superb catch in center field to rob Manny Machado of a hit in the fifth, sent Tillman's 1-1 pitch into the left-field seats with one out in the sixth. It was all Houston would muster off Tillman, who twice erased a leadoff baserunner with a double play and struck out the side in the third inning.
"He had some late life in the zone, that last little come-again action, so to speak," Showalter said. "And Matt rode it pretty good there. He had his offspeed good enough where they couldn't just sit and try to speed the bat up.
"I think this was what, his 63rd start in the big leagues? That's infant stage for starters. And Chris is matured into a guy that on a given night you can really count on."
Designated hitter Danny Valencia gave Tillman a boost, putting the Orioles on the board off Astros starter Lucas Harrell to open the third inning by sending a 1-1 pitch into the seats. Valencia, who has three homers in his last 17 at-bats, has already matched his home run total in 44 games last season -- spanning 154 at-bats -- for Minnesota and Boston.
"I just think I am a lot different hitter than I was last year," said Valencia, who is hitting .250 in nine games since being promoted from Triple-A. "Last year was a really rough season for me. I was able to look at a lot of film this offseason, work on things, try to iron out some stuff in my swing and you know it's been kind of paying off. So I'm just happy I'm getting these hits and we're winning. It just feels a lot better."
The Orioles got a second run across when Jones dribbled a ball through Houston's first baseman Chris Carter's legs, scoring Machado. Machado delivered a one-out double, extending his Major League lead to 26, and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
Nate McLouth manufactured another run in the eighth, connecting for a leadoff single off reliever Wesley Wright and stealing second base with Machado at the plate. After Machado struck out, McLouth stole third and dashed home as catcher Jason Castro's throw skipped into left field. McLouth's pair of swipes gives him 21 on the season, tying him with Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury for the American League lead. Ryan Flaherty singled in another run in the ninth, scoring J.J. Hardy, who doubled off reliever Josh Fields with two outs.
Reliever Tommy Hunter tossed a scoreless eighth following Tillman, and closer Jim Johnson recorded his 19th save.