Pirates’ top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon did not launch his fastball up to the high-90’s Thursday night in Akron like he has in the past. Taillon’s breaking ball was not missing bats, which meant he got his first and only strikeout in the 6th inning.
Despite Altoona’s starter not having his best stuff, the overall outcome was still very good. Taillon needed just 91 pitches to tie a career-high seven innings, his stated goal with the Curve playing doubleheaders Wednesday and Friday. After giving up three straight hits and a run in the 1st inning, he allowed just four hits and one run the rest of the way.
“I threw some good quality strikes,” Taillon said after getting a no-decision in Altoona’s 3-2 loss. “Changeup was really, really good. I didn’t have my best breaking ball, but I threw it when I needed it late in the game.”
Here is the breakdown of Taillon’s attack of the Aeros, which resulted in seven hits and two hit-by-pitches but no walks.
Let’s break down the five biggest aspects of the 21-year-old’s start and what it means for his future.
Trusting His Changeup
When he last spoke with the media, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said the focus for Taillon would be refining his pitch repertoire, specifically his changeup.
“He’s got a good [changeup],” Huntington said. “It’s the matter of picking when to use it, which hitters to use it against, which situation to use it. But then ultimately using it and trusting it and believing in it.”
Taillon had plenty of reason to believe in it Thursday night, throwing it 12 of 14 times for strikes and allowing only one changeup to be hit hard. He says he feels comfortable using the pitch even when he is behind in the count.
“I’ll throw it whenever,” Taillon said. “A couple years ago I would have never thought of doing that ever.”
A good changeup offering would give Taillon a strong four-pitch repertoire to deliver to Major League hitters. Pitching coach Stan Kyles calls Taillon’s changeup a “super pitch” that can enhance the fastball and breaking ball of the 2nd overall pick from the 2010 MLB Draft.
“How much pressure it takes off his other pitches, and how much effective the pitch can be in and of itself,” Kyles said. “And he’s come a long way with it.”
The directive for starting pitchers in the lower levels of the Pirates’ system is improving the ability to hit spots all over the plate with fastballs. Taillon threw his fastball for strikes 65% of the time Thursday night, and his 65% strike total across all pitches was the 4th best of his 15 starts this year.
“I can definitely tell I’ve gotten better every year with it,” Taillon said. “Going up when I want to, getting ground balls down in the zone when I want to. It’s something good to have.”
Taillon’s fastball is certainly a plus offering, even when it only touches 96 mph like it did Thursday instead of 98 or 99 mph. And his manager says a great fastball keeps hitters off-balance.
“Even when your off speed is not what you think it should be at that particular time or in that particular outing, you are still going to get people out because they’re gonna be out in front,” said Altoona manager Carlos Garcia.
Pitching Through Traffic
This season, Taillon is allowing opposing batters to hit .272 with the bases empty but .222 with runners on. He had to pitch from the stretch to 15 of his 29 batters Thursday night, but he attacked those 15 hitters with 10 first-pitch strikes.
Even after allowing early hits, catcher Carlos Paulino said he stayed sharp as the two continued to pitch guys on the inside half of the plate.
“He commanded every pitch that he threw,” Paulino said. “We worked with the fastball and changeup to get through [tough] innings. He just made a good adjustment.”
Kyles praised Taillon’s makeup and willingness to learn when asked about his impressions of the pitching phenom during his first full season in Double-A. Plowing through hitters even with runners on base was a great example.
“He’s a kid that doesn’t get bent out of shape when things don’t go well,” Kyles said, who calls the young pitcher “Tails.”
Pitchers throughout the Pirates’ system are told to focus on three aspects in every start:
- First-pitch strikes (Taillon threw 18 of 29 and said he could have done better)
- Staying out of three-ball counts (He pitched into just one)
- Retiring batters with three pitches or fewer (Taillon did it for 13 of his 21 outs)
“Three pitches or less, I think I was the best I’ve done all year,” Taillon said.
That efficiency allowed Taillon to average just 3.14 pitches per batter, the best number he has posted all season. His longest inning was a 20-pitch frame in the 1st. After that, no inning was longer than 15 pitches.
When Will Taillon be in Pittsburgh?
Taillon says he is having fun watching the Pirates play winning baseball and tie for baseball’s best record. Does he think about the possibility of being on the Major League club in September?
“Yeah, absolutely. Your goal is to pitch and help them,” Taillon said. “I don’t know if it will be September, next year, I don’t really know.”
He will be entering his fourth month in Double-A soon, holding a 2.90 earned run average that is 7th-best in the Eastern League. Does he have a date in mind for being with Triple-A Indianapolis?
“Honestly, if this were a couple years ago, I would have a date. This year, something really cliche I’m trying to do is just get better every day,” Taillon said. “I’m getting comfortable, but obviously not comfortable with the level because I don’t want to stay in Double-A.”
So with a plus fastball, an improving changeup and a curveball that his pitching coach says he was “born to throw,” what are Taillon’s short-term goals?
- “First-pitch strikes.”
- “Keep using my changeup.”
- “Pitching inside.”
- “Keep using my repertoire, learn how to use it.”
- “And then control the running game is always good too.”
Remember that Jameson Taillon is the youngest player in the Altoona Curve clubhouse, a pitcher who won’t be 22 years old until November and might be negotiating a draft bonus right now had he gone to pitch for Rice University instead of knocking on the door of Triple-A.
Oh, one more thing. Neal Huntington was watching from behind home plate at Canal Park on Thursday night. If Taillon wants to take the next step, he should hope Huntington liked what he saw.