Chris Tillman, Orioles’ Bullpen Silencing Critics As Baltimore Continues to Be Thorn in Red Sox’ Side

Chris TillmanSo much for those pitching woes.

The Orioles, a team whose 2012 success was due in large part to their bullpen’s dominance, have received inconsistent pitching for much of this season. You wouldn’t know it by watching Baltimore’s back-to-back wins over Boston, though.

Chris Tillman turned in an excellent outing on Friday. He twirled six shutout innings en route to earning his seventh win of the season, and he seemed to get better as the game went on. The right-hander showed a lot of confidence in his offspeed stuff, particularly his curveball, and when all was said and done, Tillman and three others combined to shut out the Red Sox, 2-0.

Tillman has had some shaky games this season, but he’s been Baltimore’s most effective starter. That isn’t saying too much considering the Orioles’ pitching staff ranks near the middle or bottom of the league in a number of statistical categories, including ERA (29th). However, Friday’s performance highlights a solid stretch for Tillman, as he’s gone at least six innings and allowed two runs or fewer in his last three starts.

Pitching will still be the biggest question mark surrounding the Orioles going forward. Baltimore’s offense packs a powerful punch, but there will continue to be questions about whether the O’s have the horses necessary to be World Series contenders. Their rotation isn’t exactly daunting, and the bullpen, which was sensational last season, has been a shell of its former self. Despite the lackluster overall production from those toeing the rubber, though, it’s hard to overlook the efforts turned in against the Red Sox.

Tillman’s six shutout innings will grab headlines, but Baltimore’s bullpen was excellent. Only one baserunner reached against the trio of Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter and Jim Johnson. That came in the ninth inning when Daniel Nava was hit by a pitch, and he was quickly wiped off the bases on a game-ending double play induced by Johnson.

The impressive pitching display on Friday was actually the second of the series for Baltimore. Reliever Brian Matusz surrendered two runs to the Red Sox in the seventh inning on Thursday. After that, five relievers combined to toss 6 1/3 perfect innings before Chris Davis’ bloop single in the 13th inning sent Orioles fans home happy.

The Orioles’ bullpen certainly isn’t back to where it was last season, when Baltimore had the fifth-best bullpen ERA and went 29-9 in one-run games. Pedro Strop has had a disastrous season and Johnson hasn’t been the lights-out closer he was in 2012. But the O’s have pitched their way to two wins in a row over the AL East-leading, offensively-gifted Red Sox, trimming their divisional deficit to 1 1/2 games in the process.

Oh yeah, and the Orioles have taken four of five from the Red Sox so far this season. That has to count for something, right?

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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