Pirates rookie makes Mets walk the blank

June 15th, 2016

Jameson Taillon has always bristled at the notion that he'd wasted two seasons of his baseball career. He said nothing could be further from the truth. He'd grown so much, learned so much.

Sure, Taillon hated that he was forced to measure his career progress by therapy sessions and medical reports instead of walks and strikeouts. Inches instead of miles. Along the way, though, he gained plenty: strength and conditioning, maturity and a better understanding of preparation.

One thing that helped keep Taillon focused through the whole crazy ordeal is that when he finally did return to the mound, he would be ready to help the Pittsburgh Pirates. That affirmation came Tuesday night in a 4-0 victory over the Mets as the 24-year-old right-hander turned his second Major League start into an absolute clinic.

Taillon pitched eight innings of two-hit ball for his first big league victory, and it was every bit as dominant as it sounds. He didn't allow a hit until Curtis Granderson led off the seventh inning with a ground-ball single and faced only 27 batters.

MLB Pipeline's No. 48 overall prospect threw 91 pitches and kept it simple, allowing his talent to take over. Taillon mixed two different fastballs with a big, soft knee-buckling curve. His fastball averaged 95 mph, his curve 80. Taillon threw enough of those curves -- 21 in all -- that he had the Mets off-balance the entire night.

Taillon never threw more than 15 pitches in an inning and got 17 outs on ground balls. He finished the evening by striking out Mets pinch-hitter Michael Conforto on an 80-mph curve that was set up by a 95-mph fastball.

This was the guy the Pirates believed they were getting when they made him the second overall pick of the 2010 Draft, the guy taken right after Bryce Harper of the Nationals and right before Manny Machado of the Orioles. Taillon was the prototype of what every scout is trying to find. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, his delivery is compact, efficient and seemingly effortless.

Taillon has intangibles, too. He graduated from The Woodlands High School in the Houston suburbs -- which also produced D-backs All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt -- with a 3.85 GPA and was admitted to Rice University before signing with the Bucs.

Taillon announces arrival by flirting with history

Taillon's parents joke that Jameson is the underachiever of the family. One of his brothers, Jordan, a medical student in New York, was at Citi Field to see Tuesday's game.

Jameson's other brother, Justin, has a Ph.D. in environmental studies from Texas A&M and is a professor there. His sister, Jasmine, has a law degree from the University of Houston.

Those accomplishments registered with scouts, who saw in Jameson some of the same seriousness and commitment to excellence.

This one Major League victory is just a beginning, nothing more. Taillon will grow and learn. He will succeed some and fail some, just as all Major Leaguers do. But in terms of potential and smarts, this is one of those special nights for an entire sport.

Taillon is the rare talent an organization can build around. The Pirates have more young pitching coming, too, with right-hander Tyler Glasnow carrying a 1.90 ERA after 13 starts at Triple-A Indianapolis.

This is how this franchise must do business. It cannot spend for big-ticket free agents, so smart Draft choices are critical. Under general manager Neal Huntington, few teams have done it better.

Taillon was always supposed to be one of those building blocks and was right on course until undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014. Just as he was set to return in '15, he underwent surgery for a sports hernia.

He was disappointed but undeterred. By the time Taillon put on a uniform in Spring Training, he was back on a fast track to the Major Leagues. The Bucs would have preferred he get a full, healthy season at Triple-A, but they always knew injuries might dictate otherwise.

Taillon showed glimpses of brilliance last week in his debut when he allowed the Mets three earned runs in six innings. He was unsure when he'd get another turn. Gerrit Cole's injury got him Tuesday's start.

In doing so, Taillon had the kind of game he'll remember for the rest of his life. All the coaches, doctors and trainers who helped get him back to this point feel pretty good as well.

Baseball has been blessed with waves of amazing young talent in recent seasons. Remember this day. Another special one arrived.