Jaso's quality at-bats rubbing off on rest of lineup

April 14th, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- John Jaso led off the Pirates' 7-3 loss to the Tigers on Wednesday night by lining Shane Greene's seventh pitch off the Clemente Wall for a single. The previous six pitches may have been equally important for Pittsburgh's lineup.

Jaso has hit leadoff in nine of the Pirates' first 10 games and reached base safely in all of them. He's hitting over .300 with an on-base percentage over .350. As impressive as the numbers are, Jaso also sets the tone for Pittsburgh's lineup.

In three of his nine games hitting leadoff, the Pirates have forced the opposing starting pitcher to throw at least 35 pitches in the first inning.

"He's a big reason we've been able to have those innings where we run up some pitches," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Everything's contagious in this game. I think he leads the other guys to that as well."

Greene threw 35 pitches in a two-run first. Tim Melville threw 37 in the first inning on Sunday. It took Mike Leake 42 pitches to get through the opening frame on April 6.

The contagious approach is playing out down the lineup. David Freese had seen an average of 4.58 pitches per plate appearance entering Thursday, the fifth-highest total in the National League. Andrew McCutchen had seen 4.27, 20th in the NL. Francisco Cervelli's at-bats had gone an average of 4.37 pitches, 14th in the NL.

Surprisingly, Jaso was averaging 3.86 pitches per plate appearance, 50th in the NL. But his willingness to occasionally swing early, Hurdle said, makes him an even more effective leadoff man.

"If he likes something, he's going to ambush it early," Hurdle said. "They're always on guard. They can't flip something in there first pitch. The barrel's showed up as well. He's swinging the bat, moving the ball around from line to line.

"Everything we anticipated him being able to bring, he's bringing right now at the top of the lineup."

Hurdle happy for Taillon

Right-hander Jameson Taillon, the Pirates' No. 4 prospect, made his first start for Triple-A Indianapolis since 2013 on Wednesday night. Set back by Tommy John surgery and a hernia operation last season, Taillon struck out six and allowed one run over six innings.

This spring, Hurdle could tell Taillon was ready to put the injuries -- and talking about the injuries -- behind him and move on. That process began Wednesday night.

"I was so encouraged by his outing last night," Hurdle said. "It was one of the first things I looked at this morning."

Hurdle planned to call Taillon on Thursday morning. What was he going to say?

"Well done," Hurdle said. "Continue."

Just like Spring Training

Wednesday's game was the lone night start in a six-game stretch that ended Thursday. The scheduling quirk makes it more difficult to settle into a consistent routine, but Hurdle looked on the bright side, pointing out that the Pirates spent all of March playing day games in Spring Training.

"I don't think we've overcooked it," Hurdle said. "I think we look at the schedule and show up when it's time to play."