By now, most of you have heard that Pirates #2 prospect Jameson Taillon had a career high 10 strikeouts in his second start of the season on Friday night against the Harrisburg Senators. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend this game live, so instead I watched the replay on milb.tv to see what was (and wasn’t) working for Taillon, who ended up taking the loss after giving up two runs in his six innings of work. Below are my reactions, inning by inning.
Before we get started, a disclaimer: Since I’m relying on video, I don’t have my typical vantage from behind home plate, making certain pitch movements hard to detect (change-up and two-seam fastball mostly), especially without the benefit of a radar gun to help determine which pitch was thrown. Also, the video included some incidental skips over a few pitches, so I definitely missed a few things I would have picked up had I been there live.
1st inning: 3 up, 3 down, 2 Ks.
Taillon was sharp early, getting two strikeouts to end the first, after a Brian Goodwin (Nationals #2 prospect) hard liner to SS Gift Ngoepe to start the game. The strikeouts of Jose Lozada and Anthony Rendon were both with his plus curveball, which he had working well early, and intermittently in his latter innings of work. The curve has a big, looping hook and is more the type to freeze and buckle batters, not one that surprises them mid-swing. He froze Rendon, the Nationals top prospect to end the inning.
2nd inning: 1 hit, 2 Ks.
Taillon got Justin Bloxom on a called strike three to start the inning, again with the curve. He also threw one of his better two-seam fastballs in the at-bat, hitting his spot down in the zone for strike two. Next, Steven Souza, the Nationals #14 prospect according to John Sickels, doubled to the right field gap, the first hit of the day. Watching it closely, Souza hit a fastball—what I think was the four-seam since it had no arm-side run– that was down in the zone. This was more a piece of good hitting than bad pitching, but the flatness of this fastball is worth noting, as Taillon would struggle more with it later. He responded by blowing #13 prospect Destin Hood away with some fastballs for his fourth strikeout (note: the video feed froze up at this spot, but the first two strikes were fastballs) and got a nice play from 3B Stefan Welch on a hard hit grounder to get out of the inning without any damage.
3rd inning: 2 hits, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K.
After giving up two hard hit balls in the second, the Senators got to Taillon again in the third inning. The lead-off man flew out on the first pitch and then Taillon struck out starting pitcher Caleb Clay, before he got into some trouble with the top of the lineup. Taillon hung a 2-2 curveball to Brian Goodwin, which was hit to the centerfield wall for a double. The pitch was up in the zone and hung nicely for Goodwin. Losada followed by lining a first pitch fastball (I think a change-up) to left plating Goodwin, and for the second straight batter, Taillon missed his spot up in the zone and paid the price. Next he walked the tough Rendon on four pitches, but he was bailed out by catcher Carlos Paulino’s quick throw to pick off Losada at second base to avoid any significant damage.
4th inning: 2 H, 1 ER, 1 HR, 2 K.
The fourth inning once again saw Taillon give up some hard hit balls in the air because he missed his spot, while also avoiding major trouble by getting strikeouts of the Senator hitters. He began the inning by striking out Bloxom for the second time, getting him to chase a 2-2 curve in the dirt. Souza followed with his second extra base hit, a home run crushed to left field on a 1-0 fastball. Paulino’s target was down in the zone, but Taillon put the pitch right down the middle, belt high, and Souza is too good a hitter not to take advantage of such a mistake. Taillon’s fastball command started to slip as the outing wore on, and without a ton of down angle, hitters were able to hit it hard. After getting pop up from Hood, Jeff Howell hit another poorly located first pitch fastball for a double off the centerfield wall. Taillon stranded Howell by getting a called strike three on the outside corner (more likely the pitch was about two inches outside from my vantage).
5th inning: 3 up, 3 down, 1 K.
Taillon started the inning with his 8th strikeout, getting starting pitcher Clay for the second time. He then finished with two flyouts, both on fastballs left up in the zone. It is worth noting that of the 7 non-strikeout, non-pick-off outs Taillon recorded, 5 were on air outs, and all the hits he surrendered were in the air.
6th inning: 0 H, 2 BB, 2 K.
Taillon’s final inning was a pretty good one, and his command of both the fastball and curveball were better than the third and fourth innings. He walked Rendon to start the inning after running the count full, mostly hitting his spots. Rendon has plus strike recognition, and in this bat he was quite impressive. Bloxom then grounded out to second advancing Rendon, bringing up Taillon’s nemesis Souza (2-for-2, 2B, HR). Souza also walked on a full count, and again, Taillon made some good pitches, particularly locating the fastball on the outside half. He did miss the curve the three times he threw it in the at bat, but I can understand why he was delicate with Souza with an open base.
Taillon ended his night by striking out Hood and Howell, showing his good fastball and curve command again. Hood went down swinging on a curveball in the dirt, and Howell looked pretty over-matched by the tall right-hander, waving at a curveball that bounced at the plate and then getting blown away by a good (and down) fastball for strikeout #10.
It’s been said that “chicks dig the longball,” but we could also add the mantra that “fans love the strikeout.” Taillon got a whole lot of them on Friday night, and that is reason to be excited about his development. Most noticeably, his curveball was a definite out pitch for him, getting both swings-and-misses and called third strikes with the pitch. At times, the Senator hitters looked baffled. Also, Taillon threw a lot of strikes (62 out of 96 pitches) and still looked strong into the 6th inning, another great sign for his upside.
However, it would be false to give the outing nothing but rave reviews, and Taillon demonstrated why he still has work to do in the minors. When he had command of the fastball and curve, he was very, very good, but Taillon was also quite hittable when he missed, leaving the fastball up or curve hanging out over the plate. Of course, it is expected that consistency will challenge rising prospects like Taillon, and that was the case tonight, so I don’t want to harp on this too much. Taillon has time to improve his command before getting to the show.
I was a bit surprised to see Taillon give up so many balls hit in the air, a sign that he was either missing his spots or flattening out his fastball (both happened in the game). Particularly, the Senators were able to tee-off on Taillon for four extra-base hits, mostly on fastballs that were up in the zone. Most of these hits came against some highly regarded hitters, a sign that while Taillon is developing well, if he misses his spots against skilled batters, he can get touched up. It certainly didn’t help that Taillon didn’t get a lot out of his change-up on the night, and development of the pitch as a third offering may ultimately define the extent of the heralded prospect’s eventual impact. A fourth good pitch to go with the four and two-seam fastballs and curveball will make Taillon formidable.