Taillon, Bucs look ahead after fine rookie season

Righty wraps up campaign with 3.38 ERA after solid six-inning start vs. Cubs

September 29th, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- This time last year, was pitching in his sixth straight tour of the Florida Instructional League, the "chain-link league," so nicknamed for the fences that surround back fields like those behind the Pirates' training complex in Bradenton, Fla.

On Wednesday night, Taillon wrapped up an impressive debut season in the Major Leagues, pitching six innings of one-hit, one-run ball against baseball's best team in the Pirates' 8-4 win over the Cubs at PNC Park.

Taillon, 24, completed a successful season in the Majors despite not pitching in the Minor Leagues the previous two years. He spent that time recovering from Tommy John surgery and a hernia operation, honing his body and his mechanics to be ready for moments like Wednesday night. That preparation paid off throughout the year, as Taillon emerged as an instantly reliable big league starter -- and reinforced his status as a critical part of the Pirates' future.

What does it all mean to him?

"This is the dream. This is where you want to be," Taillon said. "Missing two years pitching in front of these fans and pitching for these guys is kind of what drove me for those two years. I got to realize a dream this year."

Taillon's final numbers: a 5-4 record and a 3.38 ERA in 104 innings over 18 starts. He struck out 85 batters and walked only 17, a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He allowed 99 hits and recorded a 52.4 percent ground-ball rate, the third-highest mark on the team among pitchers who threw at least 50 innings.

The former top prospect and No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 Draft showed a remarkable ability to learn and adjust on the fly. A student of the game with a strong feel for his own strengths and weaknesses, Taillon learned how to handle facing big league hitters for a second and third time in the same game -- then he learned how to deal with seeing them again a few days or weeks later.

"We all got to see him evolve throughout the season," manager Clint Hurdle said.

That evolution -- his development and the performance that followed -- was one of the few highlights amid a mostly disappointing season for the Pirates. Taillon will enter next spring as a complement to right-hander atop Pittsburgh's rotation.

"It's an organizational win for everybody, especially the young man," Hurdle said. "Think about the place he's going to be in next year going into Spring Training vs. when he walked into camp this past season. ... He's going to be one of our five, no doubt."

Taillon won't allow that assurance to negatively affect his offseason, however.

"I'm not going to rest easy and sit back. I'm going to get to work. I'm looking forward to being able to go into Spring Training," he said. "I'm going to have some things I get to attack. I know what works at the big league level and what doesn't. I'll actually get to work on that in Spring Training as opposed to trying to blow everyone away and impress people."