INDIANAPOLIS – Jameson Taillon has only made two starts this year in his return to Indianapolis, but so far he is looking very polished. In the first start of the season, Taillon appeared dominant in six strong innings of work in Toledo against a lineup that featured a lot of hitters with Major League experience. He struggled a bit in his second outing, which is to be expected when you haven’t faced upper level hitters since 2013. He also faced the same Toledo team five days earlier, giving opponents a second look at him in a short period of time. Despite this, Taillon doesn’t think that you just forget how to get high level hitters out.
“I feel like, whenever you rehab or miss some time, I don’t think you really forget how to execute pitches,” Taillon said. “You might forget, 0-2, runner on third and less than two outs, how to attack a hitter, but I think that you never forget that fastball down and away or good curveball. You don’t forget what it looks like. It is not foreign to me, and I really feel like I belong up here. I am not over my head at all. I feel like I wasn’t behind anybody at all, but it is nice to know that I can still get high level hitters out. These lineups are stacked with big league experience.”
Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor was encouraged by how Taillon started the season.
“I thought [going six innings in the first start] was a huge step forward for him,” Treanor said. “He was very excited about being back out there… I think it means more to be in Indy, the last place he was. I think he is in a good place.”
In the second start, Taillon’s fastball was much more hittable than the first start, so he turned to his curveball more often. Taillon has always been comfortable with the pitch, admitting that the feel for the curve was one of the first things that came back to him after the injury.
“The curveball has always been a good pitch for me, since I was little,” Taillon said. “It is a pitch that, for me, I don’t have to work on quite as much on the side, as I do my changeup. Changeups are a pitch that I always have to work on, with the feel. My curveball is a very natural pitch for me. Creating spin with it is very natural for me.”
He has also shown the ability in his first two starts of the season to snap off a quality curve when it is needed, regardless of the count and situation. He has shown very strong feel and command for the pitch through two games as well.
“It is a big pitch for me with two strikes and early in the count too,” Taillon said. “I can throw it for a strike, bounce it on the plate. Definitely will see a lot of them this year.”
The curve is playing strong early, and the fastball has shown good command throughout Spring Training and in his first start. But Taillon knows that some of his pitches still need some fine tuning.
“[One of the finishing touches] is throwing the changeup more,” Taillon said. “I have a good one, but I need to learn more of what hitters to throw it to, what certain swings you look for that can help me decide when to throw it.”
He also pointed toward controlling the running game and holding runners on base as a key development. With the long delivery, limiting the running game has been a bit of a struggle for the right-hander early in the season. There is also some fine tuning, while looking to maintain that consistent command.
BUILDING TAILLON BACK UP
Taillon’s second start only lasted 4.1 innings, and he was pulled with 89 pitches, due to a hard limit. Treanor said prior to the game that Taillon was only going to pitch a maximum of five innings or 90 pitches, regardless of where he was. The Pirates have hinted that they are going to treat Taillon as any pitcher, but the handling early on has indicated that there may be more to it.
“Obviously, since he hasn’t pitched in two years, we are going to take a more cautious approach,” Treanor said. “Maybe cautious is the wrong word, but we are trying to do the right thing by this guy, making sure that we take care of him and build him. It’s no easy to build back up after two years off.”
Treanor still sees the stuff that had Taillon among the top prospects in the organization and baseball prior to his injury. Even after two years off, he still looks polished and near being ready for the next challenge.
“[Taillon] does look the same,” Treanor said. “He was 94 to 95 [in the first start]. He topped out at that and I was impressed by that. This guy wants to get back to where he was and to get back to where his goals are. He’s going to be a big asset to this organization if he is healthy, built up, and ready to go.”
The sample size is small early on, but Taillon looks polished, with only some fine tuning needed on his changeup, and more experienced needed against advanced hitters. Outside of those adjustments, his innings might be the biggest challenge the Pirates face in promoting him, as it would be easier to control his innings totals in Triple-A early in the season. He will come up at some point this season, and it’s not out of the question that he arrives before Tyler Glasnow. The last outing shows that there are still some things to improve upon, but overall, Taillon has exceeded expectations with where he’s at in his return to Triple-A.