BALTIMORE -- Since he was called up from Triple-A Norfolk on July 4, Orioles starter Chris Tillman -- who has been on a shuttle back-and-forth from the Minor Leagues in parts of four seasons -- has attested that this time it is different. With the kinks in his delivery ironed out and more confidence than previous years, the 24-year-old found something Thursday afternoon that has eluded him in nearly 40 big league starts: consistency.
Tillman tossed six innings of two-run baseball, turning in his first pair of consecutive quality starts since August 2009 in the Orioles' 6-2 win. The victory -- powered by a four-RBI afternoon from Chris Davis -- stopped the Orioles' skid at three games and put them back into sole possession of second place in the American League East. It also marked the first time in Tillman's career he has won back-to-back outings.
"After he got through talking to y'all last time after his good outing, I said, 'What are you doing?'" manager Buck Showalter said. "You're getting ready for your next start.
"You have to move on to the next challenge whether [your last start was] good or bad and prepare it. Those four days are precious that you get ready for that. Tilly's a tough guy. He competes. There's a lot of things to like about him. And I think, hopefully, he's starting to grasp that."
With temperatures hovering in the upper 90s, the afternoon contest was a challenge for both Tillman and Rays starter James Shields, with the kind of Baltimore heat that made Showalter grateful that he didn't have to make an early trip out to the mound.
Instead, Tillman -- who faced a few early jams -- found a way to make the adjustments and pitched out of three walks in the first two innings. The O's defense turned a pair of double plays to keep his pitch count in check, and Tillman took the mound in the seventh with a shutout still intact.
"Confidence has a lot of play into it," Tillman, who is 3-1 with a 1.61 ERA in his first four starts, said of a promising stretch he hopes to build on. "It comes down to getting my delivery right, and I put a lot of hard work in during the offseason and coming in, so I'm happy with where I'm at right now."
And it shows. The Rays were unable to get anything going off Tillman until the seventh, when a pair of doubles -- including a two-run double from Sam Fuld -- forced his exit in favor of reliever Darren O'Day. The biggest difference, according to Rays manager Joe Maddon? Confidence.
"He's definitely a more confident pitcher than maybe the last time we did see him," Maddon said. "I thought he pitched well. He did not give in."
Neither did O'Day, who stranded a pair of runners and worked around a one-out error -- the Orioles' second of the day -- by second baseman Omar Quintanilla, keeping the Orioles' lead at three.
That lead came courtesy of a five-run fifth inning, a rare offensive outburst from a lineup that has struggled for the better part of six weeks. Facing Shields, the Orioles put runners on first and second one out into the fifth inning, with Nick Markakis singling and J.J. Hardy taking Shields' pitch off his ribs. After Jim Thome walked to load the bases, Adam Jones punched a two-run single into left field to give the O's the lead. Matt Wieters worked a walk to reload the bases and Davis emptied them on a double into the left-center field gap.
"I just think we kind of wore him down," Davis said of Shields, who exited after six innings. "He's a guy that's going to throw his fastball, his breaking ball and his changeup in all different counts ... We kind of started stringing stuff together and putting pressure on him, and we were able to get the big hits. I think that was really the back-breaker for him."
Davis, who entered the game hitting .152 (16-for-105) over a 30-game stretch, gave the O's an insurance run with a solo seventh-inning homer off reliever Burke Badenhop, marking his first four-RBI game since April 28. Davis' performance helped the Orioles tally more than four runs for just the second time in 10 contests, an effort the O's hope can carry over.
"That's kind of what [I've been] talking about," said Hardy, who noted that X-rays on his ribs only showed a bruise. "We're dry for a while. We're not scoring anything and we got out there and score five in an inning. It's definitely contagious, and hopefully we can keep it going from here."
Ditto for the pitching, with Tillman's outing the team's eighth quality start in its last nine games. Faced with a three-game series against the red-hot Oakland A's, Baltimore will need to be firing on all cylinders this weekend.
"What does it mean for tomorrow? We've got a team playing as good as anyone in the Major Leagues coming in here. Another challenge around the corner," Showalter said.
"This was a challenge day today. It was. Our guys responded. I was real proud of them."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.