Shoulder issue to keep Tillman from starting Opening Day

February 14, 2017 | Luke Jones

The Orioles will have a new Opening Day starter this season, but that’s hardly their biggest concern as they held their first spring workout on Tuesday.

Manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Sarasota that Chris Tillman will not be ready to pitch in the season’s first game due to a lingering right shoulder problem, but the Orioles remain hopeful that the veteran starting pitcher could still be ready to go by the end of the first week. The right-hander received a platelet-rich plasma injection in December and is currently three weeks behind schedule for the start of spring training. Showalter said Tillman could begin pitching in spring games by mid-March if there are no setbacks.

Turning 29 in April and set to become a free agent after the season, Tillman began dealing with the shoulder issue last August and missed the better part of a month after receiving a cortisone injection. He returned from the disabled list in mid-September to make four starts before taking the ball in the American League wild-card game on Oct. 4, but he completed six innings in just one of those five outings.

At last month’s FanFest event, Tillman expressed belief that the shoulder issue was finally behind him, but he made no mention of receiving the PRP injection.

“We worked hard this offseason to make sure it’s behind us,” Tillman said. “I did a lot more shoulder stuff than I’m used to [in the offseason]. I’m used to just showing up and pitching. We’ve worked hard, and I’m pretty confident it’s behind me.”

With Tillman having taken the ball for the last three season openers, Kevin Gausman now becomes the favorite to start on Opening Day against Toronto on April 3. A brief absence from Tillman at the start of the season would hardly be the end of the world, but the Orioles are not equipped with enough depth to endure a lengthy stay on the DL from their veteran ace.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette dealt veteran starter Yovani Gallardo to Seattle in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith in January, leaving the likes of Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson as the next in line behind the projected starting five of Tillman, Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. The Orioles also acquired right-handers Logan Verrett and Gabriel Ynoa this offseason to add to their potential starting inventory.

Tillman has been the rock of the Baltimore rotation since the middle of the 2012 season and has posted an ERA of 3.77 or better in four of the last five campaigns. In 30 starts spanning 172 innings last season, he pitched to a 16-6 record with a 3.77 ERA and averaged 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings, his best mark since 2013. However, he did walk 3.5 batters per nine innings, his worst mark since 2011.