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03/05/10 8:38 PM ET

Tillman strikes perfect chord in 2010 debut

Right-hander faces six, retires six and records three strikeouts

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Starter Chris Tillman said that he felt strong in his Grapefruit League debut on Friday night, a perfect two-inning stint in which the 21-year-old struck out three consecutive Pirates at one point.

"First and foremost, I felt good," Tillman said. "Got to mix in a little bit of my pitches, mainly fastballs, threw four or five offspeed pitches. I was happy with the location of my fastball, that's what I was working on [Friday night]."

Tillman opened the Orioles' first night game at Ed Smith Stadium by retiring Akinori Iwamura on a ground ball back to the mound. He proceeded to send Jose Tabata and Garrett Jones down swinging, and opened the second inning with a strikeout of cleanup hitter Ryan Doumit. Miguel Tejada flashed the leather in just his second start at third, barehanding Steve Pearce's ball and throwing it cleanly to first for the second out.

The only Tillman pitch that left the infield was hit by his final batter, Brandon Moss, who hit a shallow fly to right field.

The Orioles had designated either a two-inning stint or a 35-pitch threshold, so Tillman's 33 throws were enough to end his night. Still, the right-hander was pleased with his ability to make the adjustments on his fastball and said he could have gone longer.

"Obviously, I could have gone a little more. Tabata made me throw a few pitches there," Tillman said of the 10-pitch at-bat. "But I felt strong, even in the last couple of pitches of the [second] inning. So I felt good."

Tillman's last game situation was during Monday's intrasquad contest, in which he threw one scoreless inning and totaled 15 pitches, and Friday's cold and windy weather helped put to rest any lingering worries about his back. The 21-year-old was pulled from his Feb. 21 workout early and missed his next scheduled bullpen session after experiencing back spasms caused by falling asleep awkwardly on a couch.

Tillman didn't feel any tightness in his back on Friday but took proper precautions, getting in extra stretching and running out on the field early. Following his outing, he planned on completing his workout in the weight room, and was optimistic that his next outing would be 45 to 50 pitches.

A second-round pick of the Mariners in 2006, Tillman broke through to the Majors with Baltimore last July. He struggled in his rookie campaign, going 2-5 with a 5.40 ERA, but said that his confidence this spring is like night and day compared with a year ago.

"After building a relationship with the staff and the players, it makes it a whole lot easier on me, and it makes it a lot easier to pitch, too," he said. "Especially with my relationship with me and [catcher Matt] Wieters, that's first and foremost, I think. So it definitely helps. "

The Orioles have high hopes for Tillman, who is projected to be the team's fifth starter in a rotation that includes Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen and Brian Matusz.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.