PITTSBURGH — Jameson Taillon gave up four runs on eight hits in a 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday.

But the part that’s really going to stick with him is the fact that he was only able to pitch five innings.

When Taillon got an unexpected five weeks off in the middle of his season thanks to his treatment for testicular cancer, one of the things he wanted to improve upon going forward was his efficiency and ability to go deeper into games.

In his six starts before the cancer diagnosis, he threw 35.1 innings for an average of 5.8 innings per start. In his six starts since then, it’s actually gone somewhat worse at 32.1 innings and 5.4 innings per start.

“As a starting pitcher, you always want to go deep into games,” Taillon said after the loss. “Going five just sounds gross. Any time a starting pitcher goes five, it leaves a really sour taste in your mouth.”

But five innings has actually been Taillon’s most frequent outcome this season. He’s pitched exactly five innings in six of his 12 starts. In order to improve upon that, he has to find ways to avoid big innings like the fifth on Saturday, when he needed 24 pitches and gave up three runs.

Mound opponent Lance Lynn provided a dagger with a two-out double that scored a run and then Matt Carpenter and Tommy Pham added back-to-back RBI hits.

“The leadoff guy gets on, I strike out two guys in a row and I feel strong, I feel fresh still,” Taillon said. “The pitcher gets a hit. That’s pretty unfortunate and then a two-strike hit by Carpenter, too. It’s just a matter of bearing down with two outs and getting them out. … It’s tough. I’m going to have a tough time getting over that one tonight. I’ll get here tomorrow and it’ll be alright, but the pitcher, if he just pops that one up or a make a better pitch … I’m moving on and I might go seven, give up one run and it might be a completely different game.”

“It changes the complexion of the outing,” agreed manager Clint Hurdle.

Hurdle also thought that the 11-day layoff prompted by the All-Star break and Taillon’s late scratch because of food poisoning in Chicago might have added to the adversity.

“It’s a challenge,” Hurdle said. “Eleven days off — I don’t think he’s ever experienced anything like that. … There’s a lot of good to hunt out of it. I just think there was just a little too much rust to knock off.”

SCHUGEL SOLID AGAIN

A.J. Schugel was one of the big surprises out of the Pirates bullpen last season. He posted a 1.04 WHIP and a 3.18 FIP in 52 innings for the Pirates in 2016, but still found himself on the outside looking in at the end of Spring Training.

Then, he went down to Triple-A Indianapolis and had a 9.82 ERA in the month of April. As a result, was passed over for several call-up opportunities as the Pirates rotated Johnny Barbato, Josh Lindblom, Dovydas Neverauskas, and Edgar Santana through the back-end of the bullpen instead.

But Schugel turned things around and had a sparkling May, when he gave up just two runs in 14.1 innings. In June, he was called up to Pittsburgh but never used and ended up picking just 8.2 innings, but stayed in a groove and earned another shot.

Saturday, he threw two perfect innings with two strikeouts. Over two appearances, he’s allowed four hits and one run in five innings.

“He’s returned close to the form that we saw when he was very effective for us before,” Hurdle said. “The fastball is playing from 92 to 94. It’s sneaky quick. He’s got a good changeup. He spins the ball well and he’s throwing strikes. He’s moving the ball around. He looks to be in a very good place.”

If Schugel can provide the same type of value he did last season, it could go a long way to stabilize the long part of the Pirates bullpen and give the team another reliable multi-inning option. The Pirates bullpen has thrown 313.2 innings this year, good for fifth in the National League.

“I’m back to a good spot,” Schugel said. “I think I just developed some bad habits this offseason. I was trying to get everything right and it may have carried over. I was trying to tweak everything to get where I was last year. I just reached a point at the end of April where I just started throwing again and it’s kind of worked itself out.”

NOTES

The Pirates were shut out for the fifth time this season. … The Pirates left nine men on base and six in scoring position. … Francisco Cervelli went 2 for 4 with a double. … Adam Frazier went 1 for 3 with a walk. He’s now 4 for 8 over his last two games after snapping a seven-game hitless streak.

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