SEATTLE – This was not the Chris Tillman the Mariners traded to Baltimore as part of the now infamous Erik Bedard trade that sent future All Star Adam Jones to the Orioles.
Heck, it wasn’t even the same Tillman who faced the Mariners last year.
This version of Tillman, who was making his 2012 debut having just been called up from Triple-A Norfolk, threw consistently in the mid-90s, had impressive command, and dominated Seattle hitters to hand the Mariners a 4-2 loss on the final day of a 10-game homestand.
“I played with him a couple years back in the minor leagues before we traded him to Baltimore, I faced him last year, and I’ve never seen him sit at 93 to 95 miles per hour,” said Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders, who through eight innings had Seattle’s only hit off of Tillman. “He was throwing strikes, he was mixing up his pitches, he was throwing a pretty good 12-to-6 curveball, and he did a pretty good job of not leaving too much over the plate. But the biggest difference for me, seeing him last year and seeing him a few years back, he’s definitely added a few miles per hour to his velocity.”
A day after Baltimore’s Wei-Yin Chen took a perfect game into the seventh against Seattle, Tillman retired the first 10 batters he faced Wednesday before Saunders singled up the middle in the fourth. That would be the Mariners’ only hit until the ninth when John Jaso doubled to end Tillman’s afternoon.
“There wasn’t really any hard contact with the exception of Saunders and Jaso,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “The kid pitched a good ballgame, don’t get me wrong, but we just didn’t put ourselves in the position to hit the ball hard, we didn’t really get a chance to get anything going, and that guy just commanded the ballgame against us. … We just kept miss-hitting the baseball today.”
Tillman wasn’t the only member of that 2008 trade to hurt his former team. After Mariners starter Hector Noesi breezed through the first inning, Jones, who will play in his second All Star game next week, led off the second by crushing a 2-0 fastball into the upper deck in left field for his 20th homer of the season. An inning later, Noesi was in trouble again, giving up a pair of singles to start the third. Following a sacrifice bunt, J.J. Hardy drove in a run with a groundout, then Chris Davis followed with an RBI single.
The Orioles added an insurance run off of Noesi in the fifth when Robert Andino drove in Mark Reynolds with a single.
“I was not good today,” Noesi said. “I was missing my spots.”
The loss was Noesi’s major league-worst 11th of the season, and eighth in as many decisions. Wedge left the door open when asked if Noesi was in danger of losing his rotation spot.
“That’s a good question, that’s a fair question,” Wedge said. “We’re in the process of evaluating everything, I’ll tell you that much. I’ve been very clear, I’ve been very patient, I think we’ve been patient as an organization, but there’s a time and a place to make some changes, and as we head into the break here, we’re going to evaluate where we are with everybody.”
The Mariners finally produced some offense in the ninth, but it was too little, too late. Saunders reached on an error to lead off the inning, then following a Casper Wells strikeout, Jaso doubled and Kyle Seager drove in a run with a groundout. Justin Smoak followed with an RBI single, which brought Miguel Olivo to the plate as the tying run, but he flew out to the warning track in right field.
That little bit of offense was enough for the Mariners to avoid the indignity of a one-hit shutout at the hand of a Triple-A call-up, but not enough for Seattle to avoid another disappointing result at home.
“Every position player out there has a job to do, and they’re not getting it done right now,” Wedge said. “That’s obvious.”