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.
**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.”