Tillman pitched the Minor Leagues' first no-hitter of the season Wednesday, going the distance for the first time in his five-year career, as the Norfolk Tides blanked the Gwinnett Braves, 6-0, at Coolray Field.
Tillman issued just one walk and struck out six en route to the second nine-inning no-hitter in Norfolk history and the first since Dave Telgheder beat Pawtucket, 1-0, on May 15, 1992. It was the first nine-inning gem in the International League since Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Jeremy Cummings pitched one against Rochester on Sept. 3, 2006.
Instructed by the Baltimore Orioles to work on improving his fastball command and cut fastball, Tillman posted an 8.38 ERA and lost his first three starts. On April 18 at Durham, he lasted just one inning and surrendered four runs on four hits and two walks.
"They said I did a good job [in those three games], go out and have fun the next two starts," Tillman said.
The 22-year-old right-hander did just that on a chilly night in Georgia. He retired the first 12 batters before issuing a leadoff walk in the fifth inning to Major League veteran Brent Clevlen, who was erased on a double play by Mitch Jones.
Joe Thurston followed with a hard shot to first base that was mishandled by Michael Aubrey for an error.
"[Thurston] beat me to first," Tillman said. "I was disappointed the guy beat me, then I checked to see if it was a hit or an error."
That's when the former second-round pick realized he was working on a no-hitter.
"I didn't think of it at first," he admitted.
Tillman tried to keep things lighthearted, even after his teammates began to keep their distance in the dugout around the sixth inning.
"They wouldn't even come close to me," he said. "I was joking around with them the whole game. I wanted to keep it upbeat."
Thurston turned out to be Gwinnett's last baserunner as Tillman set down the last 13 Braves. In the ninth, he retired Brandon Hicks on a grounder to third and got Clint Sammons on a comebacker before Matt Young bounced out to shortstop Robert Andino to set off a celebration near the mound.
"Everything kind of fell into place," said Tillman, who improved to 2-3 and lowered his ERA to 4.05. "I was pitching around my fastball. I had my curveball when I needed it. I was able to throw my changeup and my cutter. My catcher [Adam Donachie] did a great job calling pitches and I had three or four great plays behind me."
The Orioles acquired Tillman from the Mariners as part of the Erik Bedard trade in February 2008. He was an Eastern League All-Star in his first season in the Baltimore organization, going 11-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 28 starts at Double-A Bowie.
"That's obviously a tremendous accomplishment by one of our real bright prospects and a guy we think a great deal of," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "So I'm sure it's a real thrill for him and I look forward to hearing about it."
Last season, Tillman was 8-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 18 starts for Norfolk and started the All-Star Futures Game for the U.S. team. The Orioles brought him to the Major Leagues at the end of July and the California native went 2-5 with a 5.40 ERA in 12 starts.
"By far, this was my best outing," Tillman said. "This is the best I think I've done."