The Altoona Curve defeated the Richmond Flying Squirrels 7-0 on Sunday night behind an impressive start from heralded prospect Jameson Taillon. The 2010 first-round draft pick moved to 2-0 in his two starts since moving to AA Altoona, going six scoreless innings while striking out seven with no walks. In his two starts, Taillon has a posted a line of 11 innings pitched, five hits, 0 runs, 0 BB, and 13 strikeouts. Tonight, he struck out the last five batters he faced.
The Curve had several offensive stars on the night, including catcher Ramon Cabrera (3-4, RBI), second baseman Jarek Cunningham (1-3, 3B, 3 RBI), and first baseman Matt Curry (1-4, HR, 2 RBI).
Taillon Impresses With Command of His Full Repertoire
Although 11 innings is a small sample size, Taillon’s performance tonight and last week in Trenton is nothing if not encouraging for his potential to be a top of the rotation starter in Pittsburgh someday. His K/9 rate of 10.64 is the type of strikeout rate you hope for in a top prospect at this level, demonstrating his ability to miss bats and throw multiple pitches for strikes. Taillon’s strike-throwing was a big plus tonight, throwing 48 of his 69 pitches for strikes (70%).
Also promising, the young righty has yet to walk anyone since making the jump to Altoona. This statistic is a marked improvement from the 2.7 BB/9 he surrendered in Bradenton earlier this season and his 2.1 BB/9 rate in West Virginia last season.
Taillon’s success tonight can be traced to his ability to throw each of his pitches with confidence and good overall command. His hard 4-seam fastball sat 94-96 mph tonight, touching 97, and as expected, he threw the pitch in all counts. Taillon also mixed in a two-seam, a pitch the coaching staff has recently allowed him to reintroduce.
“The two-seam is something they’ve given back to me. It can be a big ground ball pitch for me. I can throw it whenever I’m behind in the count or when there are runners on to get a ground ball,” says Taillon. “It’s not a pitch I have to be too perfect with, just letting the velocity and the movement do the work.”
Taillon threw mostly four-seam fastballs tonight, which are harder and straighter, mixing in five or six two-seamers, which were in the low 90’s with some armside downward movement.
As was the case in his previous start in Trenton, Taillon showed off his plus curveball tonight, throwing it consistently for strikes down in the zone at 81-83 mph. The pitch fooled many hitters, and four of his seven punch-outs came on the pitch (three swinging, one looking). The most impressive was his last pitch of the night, an 81 mph curve that froze centerfielder and Giants’ top prospect Gary Brown on a 2-2 count.
Taillon also threw about nine change-ups on the night, a positive sign after the pitch was ineffective last week in Trenton. The pitch kept Richmond batters off-balance, and even though he threw it out of the zone about half the time, he was missing with it low, not out over the plate where batters could square it up. When batters did hit the pitch, it was for ground ball outs.
What changed with the change-up? According to Pirates minor league pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell, Taillon adjusted his grip on the pitch this week.
“He throws just a regular circle change-up, but his thumb was too high, so we moved it underneath more like his fastball grip.” He adds, “When a pitch feels good in the hand, you can be a lot more confident with it.”
Taillon’s ability to command both his fastballs and his two off-speed pitches tonight resulted in lots of strikeouts, no walks, an infield hit, and only one well struck ball (on a belt-high fastball lined out to left). According Taillon, he finally has all his pitches working at the same time.
“The change-up is a pitch that in the beginning of the year, that was my pitch. I was pretty much fastball change-up, and I didn’t have a feel for my curveball. And then later, I lost the feel for the change and gained feel for the curveball. And now recently, I feel like I’ve had all my pitches working, and that’s a great feeling to have.”
Taillon’s confidence was also evident in his willingness to call his own game, shaking off catcher Ramon Cabrera on several occasions.
“[We ask him] to have a reason for throwing each pitch, and throw whatever you want. We’ve laid the foundation of pitching off the fastball, but at this level of AA where you’re a couple of steps away from Pittsburgh to learn how to pitch,” says Mitchell. “I think we’re seeing an up-tick in the stuff because he’s throwing what he wants to throw.”
With such an exciting beginning to his AA career, it’s important to remember that Taillon is only in his second season of pro baseball and still has a way to do until he can contribute at the big league level. As both manager P.J. Forbes and Mitchell pointed out, Taillon still has a tendency to miss with his fastball up in the zone. Tonight when that happened he was able to either overpower the Richmond hitters, or he missed high enough that batters would take the pitch. As he progresses and sees better hitters, Taillon will need to continue to hone his command of the fastball, getting ahead in counts, since when that happens, as it did tonight, batters are faced with four solid-to-plus pitches each with a different speed.
Curry Belts Two-run Homer
On a night with several outstanding offensive performances, Matt Curry’s two-run blast to right field stood out. He crushed an off-speed pitch from starting pitcher Chris Gloor, showing dead pull power and the ability to turn a mistake pitch into a home run. Most notably, the towering shot came against a left-handed pitcher, only his third of 11 homers against lefties this season, but still a positive sign.
“The key for him is his ability to be effective against left-handed pitchers. He’s got to be a guy that can handle both [righties and lefties]. That’s going to come with experience; this is only his second full season,” says Forbes.
The 2010 16th round draft pick is hitting .274/.323/.407 against lefties this season.
“Watching him this year, he’s obviously making great strides. He was pretty defeated by the end of last year and we haven’t seen any of that,” adds Forbes. “I think there is still a ways to go, but obviously, you look at his numbers and he’s had a pretty solid year. He’s taken the steps forward we’d hoped he’d take.”