SARASOTA, Fla. — Two springs ago, Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman was desperately trying to prove he could pitch in the major leagues. Last year at this time, he was attempting to show he was healthy and wasn’t a fluke.
And this March?
Well, Tillman is now preparing to throw the first pitch of the Orioles’ 2014 season at Camden Yards on March 31 against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
“Any time you get the chance to get that kind of opportunity it’s a big deal,” Tillman said of being named the club’s opening day starter. “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.”
Orioles Manager Buck Showalter made the official announcement Monday afternoon: The 25-year-old from Southern California will become the club’s fifth opening day starter in five years, joining Jason Hammel (2013), Jake Arrieta (2012), Jeremy Guthrie (2011) and Kevin Millwood (2010). Tillman is the club’s youngest opening day starter since Mike Mussina in 1994.
Tillman said the honor wasn’t something on which he had been focusing.
“Not really. Not at all, to tell you the truth,” Tillman said. “Like I’ve said since Day 1, we’ve got five guys in here capable of doing it.”
When Showalter told his pitcher the news Monday, the manager said he received a one-word response: “Thanks.”
“But 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,” Showalter said. “He’s very unassuming. He doesn’t assume anything. He’s sincere. Now, if I had said ‘fifth [starter],’ I don’t know if he would have said anything. He might not have said anything.”
Both of the Orioles’ split-squad games Monday were canceled due to a persistent rain in Florida, and neither will be made up.
The afternoon game in Clearwater against the Philadelphia Phillies was canceled, and then, a few hours later, the Orioles announced they wouldn’t be playing their night game at Ed Smith Stadium against the Minnesota Twins.
The double rainout could have been a real problem for the Orioles’ pitching staff, but Showalter and club officials already had contingencies in place.
Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who originally was scheduled to start the night game Monday, pitched in a minor league game during the afternoon in Fort Myers, Fla.
Jimenez was scheduled to throw 60 to 65 pitches against Red Sox minor leaguers on Monday, but he exceeded that total slightly. He finished with 66 pitches in 32 / 3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits with seven strikeouts and two walks.
Left-hander Brian Matusz and right-hander Kevin Gausman, who were supposed to pitch Monday afternoon, will instead throw in a game against Twins minor leaguers at Ed Smith Stadium on Tuesday.
Right-hander Steve Johnson, who was supposed to replace Jimenez as the starter in Monday night’s game, also will pitch Tuesday against the Twins minor leaguers in an exhibition that is closed to the public.
Most of the Orioles’ major league players have off Tuesday.
— Baltimore Sun