SAN DIEGO – The version of Jameson Taillon that took the mound at Petco Park on Friday night was the one the Cubs targeted from the jump over the offseason. It took two months, but the big righty finally found the win column for Chicago.
And Taillon had a message for manager David Ross.
“He said to me after the game, ‘Now, we go,” Ross said.
Taillon set the tone for a 2-1 victory over the Padres at Petco Park with an efficient effort, working into the sixth and putting the bullpen in a strong position to finish the job. After the Cubs lost each of Taillon’s first eight starts, this win offered a kind of mental lift for the pitcher signed to a four-year, $68 million deal as a free-agent.
The Cubs are now hoping that “now, we go” also applies to the ballclub as a whole. After a 10-18 showing in May, the North Siders reside in fourth place in the National League Central. The situation’s silver lining is that the division-leading Brewers are only 4 1/2 games in front.
Taillon knows his false start to this campaign has played a role in the Cubs’ fortunes to date, and he understands how crucial his success will be for turning things around over the next four months.
“It's definitely not early any more, for sure,” Taillon said. “It's nice to have great camaraderie and work ethic and everything, but at some point, it is about wins and losses. And we have a lot of veterans in the room, too. So I don't think there's any panic, but there's definitely some urgency to get it going.”
For Taillon, that urgency led to a deep dive into his earlier outings, and what helped him pitch his best in past years. The collective thought over the past two outings has been to revert back to leading with his four-seam fastball and building from there. He did that last time out against the Reds, decreasing the use of his cutter.
Against the Padres, Taillon followed that same pattern. The right-hander featured seven pitches, but the four-seamer (26) led the way. His new sweeper (13) came next, trailed by the sinker and curve (10 each). Taillon lasted 5 2/3 innings, limiting the Padres to three hits (two infield singles) and one run.
“When I'm pitching well, the four-seam seems kind of at the foundation of everything that I do,” Taillon said. “Throw the strengths, and then work everything else in after that.”
Having Taillon trending in the right direction would also be a great development for the Cubs, because of the current holding pattern of sorts with lefty Justin Steele.
One of the top pitchers in the National League over the first two months, Steele exited his start Wednesday after three perfect innings due to tightness in his left forearm. An MRI on Thursday showed a “mild strain,” which Ross called the “best outcome” under the circumstances.
Steele rejoined the Cubs in San Diego and plans on playing catch on Saturday. From there, Chicago will assess the situation and determine whether the lefty’s next start is simply pushed back, or a trip to the injured list feels necessary. The Cubs have Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad at the ready, if needed.
“There’s a ton of guys we feel confident in, comfortable with,” Steele said. “That’s always a good position to be in.”
That said, the Cubs built their rotation over the winter to be led by a veteran corps of Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly and Taillon, while planning for Kyle Hendricks’ recent return. Steele’s emergence has been one of the stories of the season. Unfortunately, so has Taillon’s quest to get back on track.
Last year, the 31-year-old Taillon went 14-5 with a 3.91 ERA in 177 1/3 innings for the Yankees. In his last 100 starts prior to this year, he had a 3.78 ERA. Taillon admitted that the issues this season (0-3, 8.04 ERA entering the night) were “weighing on me a little bit.”
Friday’s outing let him relax his shoulders some.
“After you come to a new team and organization,” Taillon said, “you just want to impress and you want to prove that you're worth the commitment that they gave you. And I feel like up until this point, I haven't been doing that. I haven't been pulling my weight. I've been grinding, been working with everyone really hard behind the scenes.
“And it's nice to get the results. But that being said, I feel like we've been putting a lot of good work in and I feel like we've been getting closer and closer and closer. And I feel like, finally, we're all starting to get there.”