PITTSBURGH — Jameson Taillon’s complete-game blanking of the Reds on April 8 was a first in his professional career, but did it come at a cost beyond a Gatorade shower on a chilly day?
To wit: Since the nine-inning outing, Taillon has pitched 11 1/3 innings, allowing 12 runs on 14 hits … and that’s including six shutout innings against the Marlins in the start immediately following the complete game.
So why link the past three appearances together instead of the past two? Well, in that start in Miami, Taillon copped to not being at his sharpest while walking three and striking out just two.
Fast-forward 10 days. After the Tigers whacked Taillon for seven runs on 10 hits in the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader at PNC Park, he has eight strikeouts and five walks since the gem against Cincinnati. His ERA, which was at 1.26 after two starts, has risen to 4.91 just that quickly.
Are we digging too deep? The season isn’t even a month old, even if it has been a discouraging couple of weeks for the man the Pirates hope can be their top gun in a young rotation.
For his part, Taillon denied feeling any fatigue, or any discombobulation in his first career 4 p.m. start.
“The physical part, strength-wise, I felt really good,” Taillon said after the Pirates fell 13-10 before a friends-and-family crowd. “The fastball was really jumping out. Curveball had good feel. Kinda let it get a little loopy at times. So the physical strength felt good, but the physical execution was coming and going a bit.”
At least in terms of pitch velocity, it doesn’t appear those 110 pitches against the Reds dissolved any of Taillon’s starch. While data wasn’t immediately available for Wednesday’s start, Taillon’s average fastball velocity in his past two starts has been over 95 mph, on par with his career numbers.
To throw more cold water on the tired arm theory, Taillon actually had his lowest fastball velocity of the season during the Reds game. But, it’s still possible some exertion beyond the norm has thrown Taillon’s mechanics off a touch.
The right-hander at least allowed for the possibility of that being true. Taillon insisted he doesn’t feel like he did last August, when bad timing in his delivery led to less deception with his fastball and a 9.31 ERA over a six-start stretch.
But, being the analytical sort he is, he’ll take a look at the tape.
“I’ll have to digest that and look at it more,” Taillon said. “The last one, I felt like it got away with me, but today it was prolonged over the whole outing. I felt fine. I just need to go back and watch the video.”
On Wednesday, the problem wasn’t so much control as it was command within the strike zone. Taillon threw 57 of 75 pitches in the zone and started 17 of 21 hitters with a strike, but he had a hard time putting his fastball inside to righties like JaCoby Jones, James McCann and the great Miguel Cabrera, each of whom launched an extra-base hit during Taillon’s 3 2/3 innings.
Clint Hurdle thought that was a pattern that’s persisted for the past three starts.
“He hasn’t been able to get the fastball arm side,” Hurdle said. “He’s only executing to the glove side. And today, the secondary pitches weren’t much of a factor. There were just a lot of mistakes made up over the plate. … Against a major-league lineup, when you leave them out over the plate, you have a tendency to get hurt.”
To be clear, the Pirates (13-11) probably have bigger concerns than Taillon.
An 18-run doubleheader output aside, the lineup has been slumping for a solid two weeks. (Alan Saunders had more in his weekly column.) José Osuna’s inclusion as the roster’s 26th man spurred an 8-3 win in Game 2, with his three-run homer striking the first blow in ending a five-game losing streak.
“There was a pack mentality from start to bottom,” Hurdle said. “I think we leveraged the 26th man the best we could have.”
The bullpen gave up five runs across Wednesday’s games, and that’s not counting Michael Feliz’s escape act in the nightcap. Tigers hitters slugged over 1,000 feet of fly balls in the seventh inning, but two of them soared just foul and the other Sean Rodríguez tracked down at the left-field wall.
— Pirates (@Pirates) April 26, 2018
With a little different wind or a misjudgment by Rodríguez, the Pirates could be staring at a winless week.
“They hit two homers by, what was it, four feet combined?” Hurdle said. “Might’ve been less. Sean’s catch was special at that point in time.”
Following up Taillon’s Game 1 mound letdown, Chad Kuhl ran hot and cold in the nightcap, doing well to barge through six innings with just three runs allowed. One doesn’t get the feeling his spot in the rotation is at stake, though, since the Pirates have expressed a desire to keep Tyler Glasnow in the bullpen and Joe Musgrove still is awaiting his first rehab starts against actual human competition.
Kuhl said his curveball was “hit-and-miss” but he “hung his hat” on his slider throughout his 102-pitch night.
“I think a lot of the fastball command issues I had early on are getting ironed out,” Kuhl said after his second consecutive quality start.
“There’s still some conflict between some of our starters and the efficiency package,” Hurdle countered.
While all these realities develop further, we come back to the guy who’s supposed to be the bedrock of the pitching staff. Taillon said he’ll “dig a little deeper” into some of his misses with Ray Searage and Francisco Cervelli to find possible patterns before his next start.
Taillon’s most noteworthy takeaway from an up-then-down first month? He doesn’t have any big fixes to make, just the run-of-the-mill adjustments that make up life as a big-league starting pitcher.
“Stuff wise I do (feel the same),” he said. “Those first couple starts I wasn’t making mistakes, and when I did I was getting away with them because I was making so many good pitches in a row.”