At the end of last week, the Pittsburgh Pirates promoted top prospect Jameson Taillon to Altoona for the end of the season. That gave Taillon enough time to make three starts at the Double-A level, getting his feet wet for next season. The right-hander made the first of those starts tonight in his debut, and he impressed.
Taillon threw five shutout innings tonight, giving up four hits, walking none, and striking out six. He threw 67 pitches, with 46 for strikes. What was even more impressive is that it came against a Trenton team that leads the Eastern League in OPS, and came in a Trenton ballpark that is one of the most hitter friendly parks in the league.
“He’s as good as I could have expected,” Altoona manager PJ Forbes said. “Five shutout, six punch outs, no walks.”
Not only was this the first time Taillon pitched in Double-A, but it was also the first time Forbes had seen Taillon pitch.
“I didn’t realize the breaking ball that he had,” Forbes said of what impressed him. “I had never seen him pitch. So the breaking ball for me was something I haven’t seen. I was very excited to see that obviously. But the poise, the maturity he showed. There was no over-throwing. He was just out there to compete and battle and I thought he did a nice job.”
As I wrote last week, Taillon has been working this year on trusting his stuff and making confident decisions. He made some big strides in that area over the last few starts, which led to some improved numbers and a promotion to the next level.
“I’m just a more complete pitcher,” Taillon said of how he’s improved over the year. “Going in to the year I was kind of raw. Had good stuff but wasn’t really too in to the ‘pitchability’ type deal and setting up hitters and how to read hitters and check out their reactions and what they give me. I came a long way with that this year. Learning how to kind of call my own game. I love what catchers put down, I love working with them, but at the end of the day what they put down is a suggestion, and I’ve gotten better at knowing what I want to throw in certain situations.”
He didn’t call his own game tonight, relying more on catcher Ramon Cabrera, who knew the opposing hitters better.
“My game plan was just to follow my catcher Cabby,” Taillon said. “He’s seen these guys over the year. I really don’t think I shook more than maybe five times tonight through five, which was good.”
Taillon has placed a focus on throwing the changeup more often this year. He didn’t throw the pitch that often tonight, throwing about five during the entire evening.
“Just never really had the feel for it,” Taillon said about the changeup. “I threw it really well in my pre-game pen, and my curveball wasn’t that good. Then you go out in the game and it’s a completely different animal. Fastball, curveball are great. Changeup was never really in the game plan.”
His curveball was sharp during the game, getting a lot of strikeouts. Some of those strikeouts were looking, and some were swinging. The pitch had sharp break, and came in at the usual low-to-mid 80s speed. Taillon’s curveball is a plus offering when the pitch is on, and the pitch was definitely on tonight. He used his fastball to get ahead in the count, then shut down batters with the curve, getting a few ground ball outs on the pitch as well. The fastball was sitting 95-98 MPH tonight, and his command was strong, which led to favorable counts.
“It’s kind of one of the more simple things in baseball. It sounds like ‘just get ahead of hitters’. But it’s not always the most easiest thing,” Taillon said of working ahead in the count. “The thing I was most pleased with about getting ahead of hitters tonight is I wasn’t just throwing up 0-0 cookies. I was still making competitive pitches. I wasn’t afraid to fall behind, just because I know I’ve got good enough stuff where I can fall behind and not get crushed for it all the time.”
Taillon did fall behind a few times in the fourth inning. He went 3-1 on back to back batters, getting fly ball outs in each situation. The third batter took a first pitch ball before grounding out to short.
He was only scheduled to go five innings tonight, but he worked through the innings extremely efficiently, needing just 67 pitches to get the job done.
“If you can command that [stuff] in the zone, and execute, I think he has that ability,” Forbes said of Taillon being dominant like tonight. “Makes him who he is and why he’s so highly thought of in this organization.”
Reducing the Drop in His Delivery
Heading in to the season I talked about how Taillon was working to reduce the drop in his delivery. He throws with what is called a “drop and drive” delivery, which can lead to elevating pitches. That led to him being hit harder than he should have last year, especially with as low as he was sitting.
Tonight I noticed that the drop was reduced. I went back and compared a photo of him to a picture from last year. You can see the results for yourself (click on the image for a larger version).
Notice in 2011, how the knee is much lower to the ground. That takes less away from the legs in the delivery, and puts more effort on the arm. Not only does this make it harder to throw at a down angle, but it also adds stress to the shoulder, and can lead to injuries. So it’s good to see Taillon reducing that drop.
“I think it’s always going to be there just a little bit,” Taillon said of the sit in his delivery. “But definitely controlling that effort and the delivery is big for me. I’ve come a long way with that. I think that starts with mentality, knowing I have it and knowing I don’t need to try to do too much and force the issue there. It’s definitely getting a lot better angle on the ball, making it tough to hit.”
Last year I talked to one American League scout who questioned whether Taillon would ever be able to throw at the knees with his delivery. This year he’s been having much more success driving the ball down, and he showed that tonight. Taillon also mentioned after the game that he’s able to throw with the same velocity, only with a lot less effort, which is always a great thing to hear.
Other Game Notes
**Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are the top two prospects in the system. Aside from that, they’re also throwing partners. And even after Cole was promoted from Bradenton earlier in the year, the two pitchers talked frequently, giving each other tips and talking about their games. When asked about being back on the same team with Cole, Taillon responded: “It’s fun to have my throwing partner back.”
**Matt Curry brought in the first three runs of the game. In the first inning he laced a single down the third base line, scoring one run. He came back in the third inning and hit a double, bringing in two more runs.
**Adalberto Santos had two hits on the night, but also had two poor base running decisions. In the first inning he reached on a single. Andrew Lambo hit another single two batters later, when fell in well short of the center fielder. The play was in front of Santos as he was heading to second. He didn’t watch the play closely, rounded second, then froze to check and make sure the ball wasn’t caught. He was able to rush to third base, but might have had a chance of scoring if he went full speed and picked up on the play earlier. It ended up irrelevant, as he scored on Curry’s single. For his second hit he doubled to right field, but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple with no outs.
**Stefan Welch had an interesting night. At the plate he went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts. On the field he made two great plays which saved at least one run. In the first, Taillon allowed a one-out double. The next batter hit a hard line drive over Welch’s head at third. Welch jumped up and speared the ball, and made the easy throw to second to double up the runner, who thought the ball would go for a hit. In the ninth inning, Victor Black walked the first batter, then gave up a hard liner over Welch’s head. Again, Welch grabbed the ball, and again made an easy throw to first to double up the runner.