SARASOTA, Fla. -- For much of the offseason and into spring training, it was no secret the Baltimore Orioles wanted right-hander Chris Tillman to return to their starting rotation.
At the end of the 2017 season, Orioles vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson called Tillman and assured him the team was still interested in him. Tillman, who lives in Sarasota, also used the Orioles' facility to work out during minicamp.
After last season's disastrous year in which he went 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA, Tillman was eager to return to the Orioles -- and even more eager to show that last season was a fluke.
"I think this place is always the place I wanted to come, and they reached out first," Tillman said. "There was a constant line of communication, and it makes you feel like they really care and they want you, and it's the place I wanted to be."
The Orioles signed Tillman to a $3 million guaranteed contract. He could earn up to $7 million in incentives.
Last year, Tillman was plagued by shoulder stiffness and didn't pitch during spring training. He missed a month of the season and never pitched well. He's confident that will change this season.
"I've been throwing for three months now, where I just started picking up the ball last year, so I feel pretty confident with where I'm at," Tillman said.
"I've had a normal offseason. I had my normal offseason that I've had over the last couple of years. Last year that wasn't the case, and we were able to get in the weight room early, to throw early, and it's for the good to be able to do those kinds of things again."
For much of the offseason, the Orioles had just two bona fide starters: right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. In the past week, they've signed Tillman and right-hander Andrew Cashner.
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is looking for a return to form from Tillman, who was 65-33 from 2012-2016.
"I'm real happy that Chris Tillman is back and we got his contract done," Duquette said. "It took a little bit of work, but we came up with a deal where he can come back and pitch and hopefully -- for him and for us -- he can return to the form [he had] for the [previous] five years with the club. And he's got a good opportunity.
"We need the veteran leadership that Chris Tillman brought to our clubs from 2012 to 2016. Here's a guy who was a tough pitcher in the division, one of the top starting pitchers in the American League and a very dependable guy."
Despite the additions of Cashner and Tillman, the Orioles' starting rotation is still missing a left-hander.
During the last week, several lefties the Orioles were interested in signed with other teams. The team could still be in on veteran Francisco Liriano, who remains unsigned. Duquette said Rule 5 draft pick Nestor Cortes, a left-hander, would get a chance to make the rotation.
But for now, Duquette is happy to have the 29-year-old Tillman back.
"I've never had a player be so good in one year and struggle so much the next year at Chris' age," Duquette said.
"And I'm sure Chris didn't see it coming, certainly our club didn't see it coming. Our staff didn't see it coming. You have to find the right balance to that. The volatility of the performance was significant, and here's a contract where Chris can give us the innings, and if he pitches well, he can be rewarded and he could go back out on the market. Some people call these a pillow contract; the important thing for the player is you don't fall asleep on that pillow contract."
To make room for Tillman on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated outfielder Jaycob Brugman for assignment.
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