BOSTON – If there’s one silver lining that can be taken away from the Pirates’ loss tonight, it’s that Jameson Taillon may be the real deal.

Taillon put up a 3.38 ERA and a 3.43 xFIP last year in 104 innings during his rookie debut, and the question coming into this year was whether he could repeat that, or improve upon those numbers. One start doesn’t answer those questions, but tonight’s outing gave a strong indication that Taillon has what it takes to be a special pitcher in the big leagues.

The Red Sox were throwing Chris Sale out against Taillon, which is already a tough challenge. There is no room for a mistake in that situation. Add in the fact that it’s Fenway Park and Taillon’s first start of his second season, and it would be easy to expect a second year pitcher to not be fully on his game. Oh yeah, and it was also a really cold night, which added a new layer of difficulty. Fortunately, the last part didn’t turn out to be an issue, due to the pace of the game.

“I was honestly a little nervous when I was walking over,” Taillon said. “Freezing cold. But when I was out there, I didn’t think about it once. … In between innings I was just wearing a hoodie and a big winter jacket. Had a beanie on. Was sitting near the heater. That helped a lot. Every time before I’d go out, I’d put my hand in front of the heater, kept it warm. Was blowing on my hand a lot. I don’t think there was one point where I felt cold.”

Taillon was also helped by the fast pace of the game. He and Sale engaged in a pitcher’s duel, which didn’t lead to many long innings where the other pitcher could cool down in the dugout. But while they both threw up zeroes for runs, it was Taillon who had to work out of some difficult jams, showing a good ability to keep those outside factors at bay.

“Having a fast heartbeat and freaking out is not going to do anything,” Taillon said of his night. “I’ve got to stay collected. Try to execute one pitch at a time. See how many pitches in a row you can execute and get out of it.”

The biggest jam came in the fifth inning. Taillon put runners on first and third with no outs, and with Sale dealing on the other side. One run would have felt insurmountable. But Taillon responded with two straight strikeouts, followed by a weak chopper back to the mound for the final out.

The sixth inning also didn’t start out well, with a leadoff single. He got a strikeout, then got out of the jam with a double play, showing a good ability to rebound and not let things spiral out of control.

“He’s been able to show that ability to just settle down and focus on making the next pitch,” Clint Hurdle said after the game. “The next inning didn’t start up the way he wanted either, but he was able to turn things around and get a double play ball to end that inning. Just stays in control of what he can control. Keeps things really simple out there. Just make it the next good pitch. He’s been able to do that since he’s gotten up there.”

Taillon’s stuff was working well tonight, with a good mix of pitches. He was getting ahead of hitters, which set up his curveball for a lot of outs.

“It was good,” Taillon said. “I had a lot of feel for it. Threw it for a strike pretty well early in counts. Was able to bury it a few times in big situations. That showed up pretty well for me in Montreal, and carried over here.”

He also was doing a good job of changing eye levels, moving his fastball around the zone, then elevating when he got ahead in the count.

“We got Sandoval. We got Moreland and Bradley swinging at a couple up there, fouling a couple off,” Taillon said. “We were able to change eye levels pretty well.”

Both of those approaches are a good indicator of a pitcher who is in command of his arsenal. Getting ahead of hitters to set up the out pitch, or changing eye levels and elevating for a strikeout are core fundamentals that Taillon has been taught for years in the Pirates’ system. Tonight he showed that it may be all coming together, and if this happens more consistently, we might be seeing a very special pitcher in Pittsburgh.

If there’s one silver lining here, it’s that Taillon might be looking like the real deal. And the best part about that is this outing may have him thinking the same thing.

“To go out there and match, arguably, their ace was a confidence booster,” Taillon said of the outing against Sale.

Game Notes

**The Pirates lost 3-0 on a Sandy Leon home run off Antonio Bastardo. This came a few batters after Bastardo picked a runner off first base, but defensive replacement Phil Gosselin threw wild to second, missing the chance to get the runner.

“We actually had a chance to put him in a better situation if we make a play and get an out at second base,” Hurdle said. “Could change the whole complexion of the inning. The command wasn’t what he wanted, to get behind some hitters. The two walks complicated things a little bit, but the inning might have played out differently had we been able to make the play.”

Bastardo took the blame for the homer, and didn’t say that the stolen base played an impact.

“That was my mistake right there, and I paid for it,” Bastardo said of the home run pitch, which was supposed to be on the opposite corner, but caught the middle of the plate.

**Starling Marte tried laying down a bunt in the 9th inning with a runner on first and no outs against Craig Kimbrel. He ended up popping out. Hurdle said the bunt was Marte’s decision.

**Juan Nicasio threw a scoreless inning in the 11th, but didn’t return for the 12th. Hurdle said that Nicasio was getting warmed up earlier in the game, which limited him to one inning later.

“He was down for three innings then got hot again,” Hurdle said. “Didn’t think it was our best efforts on a cold night to run him out again in the second game of the season.”

**Andrew McCutchen had his first outfield assist from right field, while also catching one up against the wall to prevent a home run, helping to keep Taillon’s night scoreless. He mentioned robbing a home run and throwing a runner out as things on his right field bucket list before the opener, and checked two of those off tonight.

“Now it’s going to get that hit off the bucket list and I’ll be good to go,” McCutchen said, referencing that he hasn’t had a hit in the first two games.

McCutchen reacted to the throw to the plate and the difference from center field: “It’s a shorter distance than center field. If the ball comes straight to you, you’ve got more opportunity to throw somebody out as opposed to playing center field where it’s deeper and a ball hit to you like that, the chance of you throwing somebody out is slim.”

He also reacted to the catch at the wall: “I was just backing up and catching the ball, and the wall was right there. I was just trying to catch it. I knew the wall was close. I didn’t know how close until I hit it.”

**Hurdle on Taillon: “I thought he pitched a really good ballgame. Stayed aggressive, mixed all his pitches in. Was able to work out of a couple of turbulent situations and handle them very professionally. Slow heartbeat. Kept them off the plate. Really attacked the hitters. The first pitch strikes, I think it was 16 out of 26. And then there was times there were some real quick outs for him as well, and some outs where they battled.”

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  1. I agree that Taillon looked good, especially getting out of the jam. But what really strikes me in reading post-game analyses the last few days is the effect of a few yards in the narrative that followed.

    Benintendi’s HR landed maybe 10 yards from where Cutch caught Moreland’s deep fly and the distances from home plate were even closer (since Benintendi’s was pulled slightly more). If Benintendi’s fly had come on a very cold night and Moreland’s on a warm, sunny day, then the outcomes may have been reversed. And if you reverse the outcomes of the two very similar fly balls, then both starters give up 2 runs.

    Yet Taillon “pitched like an ace” while Cole is “clearly not an ace.” (Quotes are from comment sections, not this article.) Baseball!

  2. As I have stated before, JT will be better than Cole!! He controls his emotions so much better than Cole. The 2 out triple Cole gave up turned into 5 runs!! 1st and 3rd with no outs against Sale??? That was Clutch!!! Taillion is our ACE!! I am getting tired of Cole getting pissed because he gave up a 2 out single!!! Like it’s the end of the world!! Very impressed by JT tonite!! My hat is off to him!!

  3. I also have liked Hudson’s performance. I think we got a steal with him. As for Badtardo he makes me nervous before that game. The odds of trading him may have gone down.

    • I think you might be right. And I can imagine many arguing that we should appreciate these “silver linings” because they will soon be supplemented with another addition of strong young talent. I think this outlook is much too simplistic and irrationally optimistic. Most of our high end talent is here or will arrive shortly. The only prospect I can imagine actually be an upgrade over the person he replaces would be Newman. Meaning that while Meadows looks very good it’s hard to imagine him duplicating Cutch’s peak years (or possibly even Cutch’s 4 WAR projection this year). A lot of talk about Keller but who wants to place a bet on him being as good when he comes up as Cole from 2013-15(I’m assuming Cole is basically gone by the time Keller arrives)

      This is argument I had with Tim last year. There is talent in the system but there is also a lot of churn of existing talent that will be either leaving, becoming too expensive, or regressing due to age. At the end of the day I see a team that projects as a middling team(78-82) wins most years. Sure with a lot of luck they can get into a WC. But if people are expecting a return to the 2013-15 years I think they will be sorely disappointed.

      Ironically for all the talk of young talent I think the MOST important development to this teams future(next 3 years) is getting Kang back. This is someone not making much more than league minimum who you can basically pencil in for 3 WAR with an upside of probably 5 WAR or slightly more.

          • I look at how amazing Marte’s 2013 season was (if an oddsmaker laid odds on Marte having a 4.8 WAR year in February 2013 what would payoff be?) and have to chuckle how a lot of people I run into want to attribute a large portion the 2013 success to shifts and groundballs.

            Marte near 5 WAR, Cutch still basically best in game, bullpen churning out a couple WPA a month, and Frank and Russ… damn that was a fun year

        • The problem with that theory is in the Pirates peak years(2013-15) Cutch was a 6-8 WAR player. Marte has never approached that and is now at the age you expect him to decline slowly. He will be a positional bump adjustment but I would say the odds of him ever duplicating Cutch’s peak years are very, very slim.

          Meadows replacing Marte’s early years sounds more doable but remember that Marte was worth 4.8 fWAR in 2013. Reality is there is a not insignificant chance Meadows never has a 4.8 WAR year- that is a very high bar.

  4. To say Taillon was outstanding is a gross understatement – when you consider the setting and the lineup he was facing – and getting ZERO offensive support – he just pitched a superb game. I have a lot more confidence in Taillon than I do Cole – and if I had to choose one to extend with a big contract, the choice is pretty easy to me.

    To me, how Cole and Taillon dealt with adversity in their 5th innings kind of encapsulates their differences….Cole has to a tendency to allow adversity to really blow up on him, while Taillon methodically worked his way out of the inning and kept his team in the game. He gave his team a chance to win – that is all you can ask for from your starting pitching.

    Mercer batting leadoff? Why not Frazier or Harrison who at least would be threats on the bases if they get on?

    The top 4 batters in the Pirates lineup – 1 for 20. That will not get it done.

    Chalk this up as the first loss on the FO – as they made the stupid decision to keep Bastardo on this roster, As I said before, he is a couple of walks and a HR waiting to happen and that is exactly what he delivered. Did his team fail him defensively on a play? Maybe, but its his job to pick them up. He was predictably terrible. Thanks NH – another great personnel decision among the many on your resume (sarcasm included)….

    • Taillon is the real number 1 on the staff. McCutcheon is 0 for 9 now. How long can they justify him in the 3 spot.

      • I am not going to react based on 2 games, when he has been very productive his entire career and had a good Spring…he’s a notorious slow starter and he has the history to justify giving him some slack.

        No one is hitting on this team….not just Cutch

      • Very tough piching. You start off game 1 with last year’s Cy Young award winner and last night Sale. The Pirates won’t always face that caliber of pitching. Be patient.

      • One thing I noticed last night was that Boston pitchers were ahead in the count almost all night. They were throwing strikes, not the Pirates swinging wildly. So while I have concerns about the Pirates offense, in this game a lot of credit goes to the Boston pitchers.

    • Yes! Mental and emotional makeup. NMR is always giving me a hard time when I bring up this narrative but I believe it. Cole can’t seem to break that. It’s strange considering in 2013, he came up big down the stretch in the playoffs but since then, he gets rattled easily. I know there’s been a similar narrative to Glasnow but I like his approach and attitude this year. I hope Cole is able to get it together though. He’s very capable of dominating games but I feel like early on Taillon has been consistently more dominant.

      • “It’s strange considering in 2013, he came up big down the stretch in the playoffs but since then, he gets rattled easily.”

        You mean it’s strange when he doesn’t perform like the narrative you’ve created? 😉

      • The difference between the 5th innings between Taillon and Cole comes down to one thing: strikeouts.

        Cole generated ground balls as the organization professes. Taillon missed bats.

        If you want to blame Cole’s psyche for poor positioning and Benintendi’s ability to turn on 98 up and in, which *at worst* missed by an inch or two, that’s your prerogative.

        • An article was written detailing the incredible odds that had to be surmounted for Cole NOT to get out of that 5th inning cleanly.

          I’m not blaming it all on luck but Cole was incredibly unlucky that inning.

        • You act like this is the first time Cole has had these kind of struggles – the same was said of him when he was at UCLA, For someone with his stuff and velocity, he gets hit more than you would expect, he gets far less K’s than you would expect, and he doesn’t pitch deep into many games (6-7 innings or more)….and other Pirates starting pitchers are in the same “pitch to contact” philosophy.

          I’m not giving up on the guy, but he needs to show that he’s the true #1 and ace – and the “narrative” for an ace or #1 is the same with every team. He needs to grow into that role or Taillon or someone else will take it.

        • I think another difference between Cole and Taillon is control. When Taillon gets in trouble, he has a better chance of throwing his pitches where he wants than Cole.

        • I don’t know that it was necessarily even an approach thing between Cole and Taillon. Taillon’s stuff is more geared toward ground balls than Cole’s in general, but Cole wasn’t going for a ground ball approach against Sandoval based on the purpose pitch up and in, and it’s impossible to know his intentions against Leon because of the bunt or Pedroia because he hit him early in the count.

          I think the Sox just executed better against Cole’s pitches than Taillon’s. The sequences were not terribly dissimilar. The pitch characters weren’t entirely dissimilar. And really, the only pitch Cole didn’t execute that inning was the dinger. But again, 98 up and in is a strikeout pitch, not a ground ball pitch.

          In general, I think Cole’s problem is under-utilization of his slider. Peak Cole leaned on that pitch a lot. He’s throwing more curves for whiffs now, which is a bad move, because his curve isn’t as good at getting whiffs. Early in a count, sure, go to the curve, see if you can get a free strike or a soft ground ball. But with two strikes, he should be going to the slider, and he just isn’t.

          • The slider thing is weird. Somebody should compare pitch usage between when Stewart and Cervelli catches him. Cervelli himself said Cole threw the pitches he called, so I’m not quite sure who is the driver here. Seems like Cole was throwing more sliders when Stewie was his de facto catcher, but this could easily be wrong.

            I think Cole’s biggest “problem” with missing bats has always been that he’s “cursed” with damn-near perfect mechanics. Zero deception in his delivery, with the ball being relatively easy to pick up. Without his breaking stuff working and heavily utilized, even 98 isn’t gonna miss many bats in today’s game.

            • If Cervelli isn’t calling enough sliders, the team needs to chat with both of them and get them incorporated. It’s his best whiff pitch, and he needs to get back to striking guys out to turn back into the ace he most decidedly was in 2015, when he was using sliders regularly to put guys away.

        • Fair enough. Cole just appears to get overhyped and rattled more easily and has seemed prone to a big inning more often. I’m hardly the only person that feels that way either. Taillon and Kuhl just seem calmer in big situations. I’m not saying it’s bad to wear your emotions on your sleeves but from what I’ve seen, those situations definitely appears to affect Cole’s performance. AJ wore his emotions on his sleeve and got angrier and would normally rise to the occasion. I hope I’m wrong and GC has a great season but right now I have more confidence in Taillon than I do in Cole and that has nothing to do with their first starts of the season.

          • “I’m hardly the only person that feels that way either.”

            This is my entire point. Once a narrative gets started it spreads like wildfire.

            Chad Kuhl comes up, admittedly allows the stage to get the best of him en route to getting hit around his first month including three runs over five innings in his debut, but he’s a “bulldog” and his offense picked him up so HE BEAT CLAYTON KERSHAW OMG!

            How does that make any sense?

            I like going back and forth with you on this and most certainly believe that mental strength is a very real part of the game, I just also think we’re absolutely awful at actually understanding what that means and how to judge it.

            • I played organized sports for over 20 years and continue to play ice hockey. To me, being mentally strong is a very important part of the game. It’s the reason why Crosby has had a consistently better career than Malkin (even though I believe Malkin is more talented). I think mental make-up is the single greatest factor in a prospect making it to the bigs or flaming out.

              I think Kuhl got hit around because he’s a rookie with passable stuff. He may have let the stage get the best of him but he recovered. I think he survived because of his mental makeup. He didn’t let it overcome him. I think he’s got a little Mark Buerhle in him.

  5. Well, living in New Hampshire has few perks when it come to the Bucs, but I do get to go to the first games (Today looks like a rainout, but will be at the make up). The 5th inning was just incredible. (I mean, the walk was bad) First and third and no out, then going to get a couple strikeouts was just outstanding.
    He looked like he was coming up and in on Sandoval, a tough hitter to strikeout, just to get the strikeout. Then on Leon, he looked like he was going for the ground ball, but when he got two strikes he just went for the strikeout and said, ‘screw it’ I can get the former MVP, Pedroia.
    Awesome that Taillon is a ground ball pitcher, but being able to reach back and get those strikeouts when needed shows that he is ready to take the next step in being a very good pitcher.

    • I gotta give credit where it’s due. Cervelli made the call on both of the strike out pitches (high and in on the first, a back foot curve on the second) in the fifth. In both cases, he put up the target and Taillon nailed it. Frankie called a great game, and Taillon pitched a great game. He looked to have ice water in his veins in that fifth inning. I hope Cole paid close attention.

  6. I blame this loss on Clint. You can’t leave bastardo in the game after walking 2 guys in the inning. You bring in Trevor and hope you get what you got from him all spring . he gets you out of the inning and pitched 3 more scoreless. As for bastardo, cut bait with him , too many lefties in the pen anyway.

    • I may not understand enough about the metrics, etc but I thought he overthought not bringing Nicasio back in. The whole warmed up, got cold, cold night thing seems like bunk to me. Pitched pretty good the inning prior. That being said the error made that inning what it turned out to be. Ryan Gossling played 6 games last year at 1B? In a tight game like that, you just had to feel that his inexperience there was going to matter at some point.

      • I would have stayed with nicasio also. But if bastardo was in the strike zone and didn’t walk Bradley and made him put it in play then yes you have a point with the pick off but 2 free passes is unacceptable.

        • Also, if Bastardo leaves that straight, flat fastball of his over the plate it ends up in the seats 80% of the time. There is no reason for him to be on this squad

      • In a tie game I thought both Hudson and especially Nicasio should have gone multiple innings. OTOH, maybe with the cold they didn’t like the idea of relievers having to go back out after sitting for half an inning.

      • What Hurdle said about Nicasio roughly translates into, “I was cold and wanted to get out of there so I called on our worst reliever”…brilliant move

    • That was textbook extra innings Hurdle. He did the exact same thing all of last year. I honestly think he get’s tired of standing in the dugout after a while and want’s to go home or back to the hotel. Everyone knew Bastardo was going to blow it when they saw him warming up. Everyone and that has to include Hurdle. We did also go 12 innings without even coming close to second base and, while Sale is good, we faced a lot of hit-able pitchers after he was pulled and couldn’t do anything. The same excuse that was used most of last year will be used again this year, “We ran into some good pitching”. No, the Pirates are not good at hitting. The line-up just does not cut it. That being said, Jeff Branson in my opinion needs to go. I have felt this way for a long time so this is not just an over reaction to one early season game.

  7. Fantastic pick and tag by Cervelli on the short hop from Cutch, too.

    Chris Sale is impossibly good.

    • Sale is that good. JT has the stuff to get to that level I believe. I like Cole, but Taillon never gets rattled. His two seamer didn’t seem to be moving where he wanted it to but he pretty much put his four seamer and curve wherever he wanted to. His change played really well too. The look Pedroia gave to JT after he whiffed was priceless

    • The Bucs’ approach against Sale was actually pretty good. They took a number of solid at bats against him. But Sale’s stuff is just so filthy, and his command was so precise last night, that it just didn’t matter.

      Not getting to Joe Kelly, on the other hand…

      • The straight overhead camera angle covers up a lot of the vertical movement in a pitch, but boy does it show you the actual horizontal movement. The slider that turned Polanco into a little leaguer twirling like a top was just unfathomably dirty.

  8. Really impressed with Taillon. Getting 2 K’s in the 6th with 2 runners on and no outs is the stuff that aces are made of.

  9. If this team is going to continue to replace Bell in the later innings at 1B, please do us all a favor and send him back to Indy or trade him. ESPECIALLY if you then remove his defensive replacement for a pinch hitter, that is utter stupidity.

    • Replacing him in a tie game was pretty dumb. But I have zero problem with them replacing late in a game that they’re winning.

      • The whole first base substitution thing totally confused me.
        I thought I was watching an NL game. Change the pitcher,
        change a position player as well.

        I thought Bell was our normal every day 1st baseman?
        We replaced him for a PH, who used to be a catcher.
        Then we replaced him with a guy who normally plays
        on the other side of the infield.

        I have to ask myself, why can’t we have a guy like
        (forgive me for this) Osuna who can actually play
        all 9 innings at first base. I thought that is why
        we have Bell.

  10. Taillon = Stud
    I know there was a large group that wanted Machado (which would’ve been a great pick) but I’ve always loved this pick.

  11. I was at the game, Tallon looked as sharp as I’ve ever seen him. Every time I blinked it was two strikes to start off against a batter.

    Bastardo did not look good. He was having a little trouble locating even in warm up, it seemed.

  12. Marte’s bunt really hurt. He probably should have bunted to the other side off the infield. Picking the runner off only to end up with the guy on second when all was said and done was a stinger too.

    • Bastardo was not sharp, but when he picked the runner off of first in the 12th, a MLB team has to be able to complete the play and throw him out at 2B. Gosselin’s throw was in the dirt and nowhere near 2B, so instead of nobody on and 2 outs, we put the winning run in scoring position.

      For what it is worth, Leon had a .600+ Slugging percentage against LHP’s in 2016 and 4 of his 7 HR’s were from the right side. But, Right or Left, the guy has killed us in these 2 games. Pirates were 1 for 20 from our first 4 batters in the order.

      • Bastardo was Bastardo – and the fact that he’s on this staff is on NH – a very poor decision, likely motivated by economics and not baseball – they made their bed as they say…

    • No, bunting is a horrible decision in almost all cases. In that case, when one of your top 3 hitters is up…you just don’t bunt. Swing away Marte!

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