O's trust Tillman, a natural leader, for opener

Young vet continues ascent toward ace status with second nod in as many years

O's trust Tillman, a natural leader, for opener

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Whether Chris Tillman likes to admit it or not, the 26-year-old right-hander has become the leader of the Orioles' rotation, the guy teammates will bounce ideas off or try to emulate.

"The good thing about it is he doesn't try to do it," pitching coach Dave Wallace said of Tillman becoming a leader. "It's innate. It's an innate quality."

Tillman, who will face Tampa Bay on Monday at 3:10 p.m. ET for his second Opening Day nod in as many seasons, is coming off a campaign in which he went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA in a career-high 34 starts. He's posted back-to-back seasons of more than 200 innings, and as odd as it may be for Tillman, he's become something of a veteran on Baltimore's staff.

Tillman will never stop asking for help or striving for ways to get better and seek a higher level.

"He has got all the things you look for in a frontline Major League pitcher, from competitiveness to not caring who he's pitching against, to Opening Day, playoffs, pitching against the best pitcher in the game," Wallace said. "It doesn't matter, he's all about doing what he has to do to be successful. And he just doesn't stop competing -- yet his emotions are always under control, which is not easy to do. It's really not easy to do, but he has that quality."

Tillman has found consistency since he was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk in the second half of the 2012 season, and he's at a good place with his delivery and his between-starts regimen. The right-hander knows what works for him and what doesn't.

Tillman fans eight Pirates

"I've always felt like the sky's the limit with Chris," manager Buck Showalter said. "You always feel like he's got even another level he can go to. I don't think I've ever seen him look as solid all around as he has this spring.

"The thing about Tilly is if he doesn't make it out of the second inning, he isn't going to be the same guy next time out. There's a certain consistency that you look for with that [No. 1] spot."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.