A weekend bullpen session was supposed to determine whether Oriole starting pitcher Chris Tillman would remain on track to return to the major league rotation by mid-April.
Instead, it never even took place.
After right shoulder soreness postponed his scheduled Saturday session for a day, the veteran right-hander experienced more discomfort playing long toss and was shut down on Sunday morning. The Orioles had hoped that the recent soreness was caused by an antibiotic, but reality appeared to set in for their best starter since 2012.
“We’ve got a pretty good feel for what the issue is structurally,” manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Florida after Baltimore’s 8-6 win over Minnesota. “I’m still very confident he’s going to pitch for us at some point this year.”
Tillman has dealt with the right shoulder issue since last August as he missed the better part of a month of action. The 28-year-old did return to make five starts at the end of the season, but he experienced discomfort once again in December when he began his offseason throwing program, prompting the Orioles medical team to give him a platelet-rich plasma injection. The setback made it clear that Tillman wouldn’t be ready to start on Opening Day for the fourth straight year, but the club had hoped the shoulder issue was behind him once and for all and that he would miss minimal time in 2017.
Now, a rotation that was already lacking quality depth will be tested without the man who’s posted a 3.81 ERA in 844 2/3 innings since the start of the 2012 season. The ailment is also cruel timing for Tillman as he’s scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season.
Right-hander Kevin Gausman is expected to take the ball on Opening Day, but determining who will be Baltimore’s fifth starter is anyone’s guess three weeks before the season begins. The internal options could include right-handers Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and Gabriel Ynoa as well as left-handers Jayson Aquino and Chris Lee.
Of course, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette could look for a veteran addition with Doug Fister and Colby Lewis headlining the list of still-available free agents.