Tillman: Baltimore 'really where I wanted to be'

Orioles finalize 1-year deal to bring back veteran right-hander

February 21st, 2018

SARASOTA, Fla. -- He had been lurking around the Ed Smith Stadium complex for days waiting on official word. On the heels of a long offseason, right-hander Chris Tillman was finally able to step out into the spotlight on Wednesday morning and rejoin the place he's called home since 2008.

"It is a relief," said Tillman, who inked a one-year contract to return that has a base salary of $3 million and can reach $10 million in incentives. "I've been stuck inside looking out the windows for the last three days, so it feels good to finally be able to join the team and get out and get my feet under me."

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Not that it will take long to acclimate. The veteran -- whose presence in Sarasota earlier this week created quite the buzz inside the clubhouse -- has long been a popular fixture and one of the leaders of the pitching staff. Now, the 29-year-old will get a chance to re-establish himself as a guy the Orioles can count on.

"We need the veteran leadership that Chris Tillman brought to our clubs from 2012 to 2016," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. "Here's a guy who was a tough pitcher in the division, one of the top starting pitchers in the American League and a very dependable guy. He was on the mound when we went to the playoffs in 2016. At his age, having the benefit of training for the winter, there's a good chance he can come back and pitch [well]."

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To clear a roster spot, the Orioles designated outfielder for assignment.

Slowed by injury last spring, Tillman never looked quite right, going 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA in 24 games (19 starts) that included a demotion to the bullpen.

So, what went wrong?

"Everything," said Tillman. "There wasn't a whole lot that went right, beginning in the offseason. I think that's a huge part of it for a starting pitcher, is the preparation in the offseason to make 30 starts and to feel strong and confident with what you're bringing to the table for the team. I was a little bit behind last year based on the circumstances."

Tillman, who lives nearby, has had a normal offseason and has been throwing at the O's complex with their permission as a free agent. He said vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson reached out on the first day of the offseason and the right-hander's heart has always been with the O's.

"It's special to me. It's the only place I know. It really is," Tillman said. "I think for me and my family, my wife and my parents, they've only really seen me pitch in a Baltimore uniform other than high school, so that was a big part of it. And you've got to go where you're comfortable and your family is comfortable."

Prior to last year, Tillman had been a rock for an inconsistent Orioles rotation. He had a solid year in 2016 for the O's, going 16-6 and posting a 3.77 ERA in 30 starts. In nine career big league seasons, all with the Orioles, Tillman is 73-55 with a 4.43 ERA in 203 games (198 starts).

Now, he'll get the chance to return to form and help the club rebound from a last-place finish in the AL East.

"I've never had a player be so good in one year and struggle so much the next year at Chris' age. And I'm sure Chris didn't see it coming, certainly our club didn't see it coming. Our staff didn't see it coming. You have to find the right balance to that," Duquette said.

"The volatility of the performance was significant and here's a contract where Chris can give us the innings and if he pitches well, he can be rewarded and he could go back out on the market. Some people call these pillow contracts, the important thing for the player is you don't fall asleep on that pillow contract. You go out and you pitch."