Baltimore Orioles: Cortisone Shot Clouds Start to Chris Tillman’s Season

As the de facto leader of their staff, the Baltimore Orioles will need another productive season from Chris Tillman in 2017. But a cortisone injection means he won’t be ready for the team’s opener.

While the division rival Red Sox won’t have David Price on Opening Day, the Baltimore Orioles will also have to do without one of their most important starting pitchers to begin the 2017 regular season. Right-hander Chris Tillman received a cortisone injection in his right shoulder on Wednesday to treat soreness he has been experiencing this spring, according to Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun.

The shoulder has bothered Tillman before. It put him on the DL last season, and he received a platelet-rich plasma injection back in December after feeling tightness there while working out during the winter.

O’s manager Buck Showalter cautioned that while the team is optimistic, they still don’t expect Tillman to be ready right out of the gate:

“If he comes out of this and feels normal, then everything he’s done to get to this point won’t go away,” Showalter said. “It could move quickly then. But it’s still not Opening Day. That’s about as far as I’d go with it.”

Encina notes that at this point the Orioles’ best-case scenario is that Tillman, who turns 29 next month and is eligible to become a free agent at season’s end, will be able to make his 2017 debut before the end of April.

An injury to Tillman is fairly significant to Baltimore in that he is effectively the club’s ace. That might be more of a statement about the overall strength of the Orioles’ pitching staff than anything. Tillman’s numbers may not scream “number-one starter” on other squads, but he’s been a solid performer in a tough division for the O’s over the past few seasons.

Tillman won 16 games last year (matching his career high) to the tune of a 3.77 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 2.12 K/BB ratio. Since 2012, he’s managed a 3.81 ERA (108 ERA+), 1.25 WHIP and 2.27 K/BB while averaging 169 innings per season.

While he’s made at least 30 starts in each of the past four campaigns, minor health issues have kept Tillman around the 170-inning mark the last two seasons. In 2013 and 2014, however, he crested the 200-inning plateau for the only two times in his eight-year major league career.

The Orioles will hope to get plenty of high-quality innings out of Tillman in 2017 if they want to compete for a playoff spot. Obviously, this setback puts his chances of reaching 30 starts and 200 innings in jeopardy for the upcoming season. Baltimore will need to rely on its other arms to pick up the slack in the meantime: Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez.

Per ESPN.com, the O’s expect one of a group of internal candidates including Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright and Gabriel Ynoa to fill in for Tillman while he’s unavailable.

Gausman appears best-suited to take on the mantle of number-one starter, and you could argue that he had a better 2016 than Tillman overall. He produced a 3.61 ERA and 1.28 WHIP over 30 outings, and at 26 years old, he should still be trending upward. Look for the young righty to step up in this opportunity.

The Orioles have bludgeoned their way to success in recent years, relying on a high-powered offense to mask any rotation shortcomings (thanks in no small part to Zach Britton and a quality bullpen as well). Returning nearly the same lineup save for Matt Wieters, it doesn’t seem like Baltimore’s strategy will change much this season.

While that approach might earn you a Wild Card berth as it did in 2016, the Orioles’ rotation will likely need to do better than its 24th-ranked 4.72 ERA if they want to make a serious postseason run. They will hope Tillman can get back on the mound as soon as possible to help make that happen.

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