PITTSBURGH -- After a short start in San Diego on July 1, Jameson Taillon said he was tired of "grinding" through starts. His stuff is so good, he said that day, he shouldn't need to grind very often -- and he hasn't had to much since then. But Wednesday night was one of those starts where Taillon had to work a little.
The good news: Taillon has proven to be adept at working his way out of jams. He came through in the clutch again to beat the Reds, 3-2, on Roberto Clemente Day at PNC Park. Taillon, the Pirates' Clemente Award nominee, allowed only one run and struck out six over five innings as the Bucs completed their first sweep since July 20-22 in Cincinnati and improved to 12-4 against the Reds this year.
"Very, very strong performance just as far as will," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Will, and finding a way to keep us in the game and keep them at one."
Taillon's abbreviated outing snapped a streak of seven consecutive quality starts but kept another impressive run alive. The 26-year-old right-hander has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 18 straight starts, a feat surpassed this year only by Mets starter Jacob deGrom and Rays opener Ryne Stanek.
This was not Taillon at peak efficiency, however. He needed 100 pitches to finish his five innings, and he knew right away it would be a long night. Jose Peraza homered off Taillon in a 29-pitch first inning, and Joey Votto fouled off four pitches in an eight-pitch at-bat that ended with a single.
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"Sometimes, you know based off how your first inning goes whether it's going to be a grind or not," Taillon said. "Whenever Votto started fouling some pitches off, I was like, 'All right, man. This is one of those nights.'"
But it was also a night that perfectly represented another aspect of Taillon's pitching profile: when opponents threaten to score, he finds another level.
The Reds whiffed on scoring opportunities in the second, fourth and fifth innings and finished 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position against Taillon. Opponents are now batting just .191 against Taillon in those situations this year, down from .265 last season and .253 in his rookie campaign.
"Sometimes, things change from year to year, but he's got a determination and focus that's real," Hurdle said. "He's got a great recall of what he wants to do. He's got some history in the league now. He's got some history against this team, particularly, and I think he's leaning on that."
Taillon's arsenal has also evolved. This year, he has introduced two new weapons -- a slider and a four-seam fastball up in the zone -- that have helped him neutralize hitters in key situations.
"I have kind of that next gear of pitches I can throw," Taillon said. "I don't think it's coincidence. You pitch a little more aggressively to contact, then you get runners in scoring position, and it kind of heightens your focus."
Taillon's final inning was his toughest. The Reds loaded the bases with two outs after he plunked Eugenio Suarez, and up came Scott Schebler. Taillon fell behind in the count, worked his way back and finished off Schebler with a 95.8-mph fastball, up and away.
"You don't really have an option," Taillon said. "You either regroup right there and get Schebler out, or your night's ruined. Put your foot down and make pitches."
The top of Pittsburgh's lineup gave Taillon a two-run lead with four straight singles in the third. Starling Marte and Adam Frazier battled for two-strike hits, then Gregory Polanco and Francisco Cervelli each jumped on the first pitch they saw from Homer Bailey to deliver a pair of RBI singles.
"We did enough to win tonight, offensively," Hurdle said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Close save: The Pirates haven't had much drama in the ninth inning lately. Closer Felipe Vazquez hasn't blown a save since May 31, and entering Wednesday's game, he hadn't given up a run since July 31. The Reds got to Vazquez quickly, though, as Curt Casali singled on his first pitch and Dilson Herrera drove an RBI double to left field.
Vazquez struck out the next two hitters, then walked Peraza and Votto, bringing up Scooter Gennett with the bases loaded and two outs. Gennett chopped a comebacker, and Vazquez nonchalantly jogged toward the plate and tossed the ball to Cervelli to earn his 30th save.
"I think he showed you how collected he is by the play he made at the end of the game," Hurdle said. "You don't see that very often. You'd have seen a guy grab it, run it to home, step on home. He's very confident in his abilities, and I think there's not a panic button."
Taillon owns a 2.88 ERA over his last 18 starts dating back to May 27. He is the first Pirates pitcher to be charged with three earned runs or fewer in 18 straight starts in the same season since Jeff Karstens (18) in 2011.
Taillon and Trevor Williams have each won 12 games this season. The last time Pittsburgh had at least two 12-game winners was 2015, when Gerrit Cole won 19 games and Francisco Liriano picked up 12 victories.
HE SAID IT
"It's special. I've got three different [pictures in my office] that all honor him for a reason. They're significant. We've got quotes in the hallways. I don't think we ever want to lose sight of the player or the man, and the man as much as the player." -- Hurdle, on Roberto Clemente Day
"It was extremely humbling to get to meet them. … That's something that, when you get asked to do it, you do it." -- Taillon, on getting to meet the Clemente family on Wednesday afternoon
After an off-day at home on Thursday, the Pirates will return to PNC Park on Friday night to begin a three-game series against the Marlins. Right-hander Chris Archer, coming off his best start for Pittsburgh, will take the mound at 7:05 p.m. ET. Archer allowed just two hits over six innings in a one-run outing vs. the Braves on Saturday. Righty Dan Straily is scheduled to pitch for Miami.