PITTSBURGH (AP) — Clint Hurdle approached Jameson Taillon in Pittsburgh’s dugout after the top of the eighth inning and asked his team’s emerging ace for a bit of healthy self-assessment.
“He asked me if I had pitches left,” Taillon said. “I don’t know if I even said anything back. I just looked at him like, ‘Yeah, I’m going back out.’”
At that point, words weren’t required anyway. Nearly a full year removed from a cancer scare that threatened to derail his promising career, Taillon looks every bit the centerpiece of a young starting rotation the front office envisioned when it agreed to trade Gerrit Cole to Houston in January.
The proof came at a chilly and sparse PNC Park on Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds. Nine innings. One hit. Two walks. Seven strikeouts. A very loud message sent in a 5-0 victory that pushed the surprising Pirates to 7-2.
“He’s focused, he’s committed, he wants to get something done, as do all of them in there,” Hurdle said. “He led the way today. And he showed the other guys in that rotation. Gave them a nice blueprint to follow moving forward.”
Cincinnati’s only hit came on a single to center by starting pitcher Tyler Mahle with one out in the third. The Reds managed just three more baserunners the rest of the way. Taillon was sitting at 94 pitches through eight innings when Hurdle checked to see if he was still good to go.
Pittsburgh’s bullpen never stirred as Taillon (2-0) finished off the first shutout of his career and the Pirates’ first one-hitter since A.J. Burnett did it against the Chicago Cubs on July 31, 2012.
Taillon’s current locker in the Pittsburgh clubhouse, by the way, is the one formerly occupied by both Burnett and Cole. Though the 26-year-old right-hander is quick to brush off suggestions there’s some meaning to the move, his performance on the field so far has been ace-worthy.
“He attacked our lineup and didn’t make many mistakes and we didn’t do much offensively at all,” Reds manager Bryan Price said.
Gregory Polanco keyed a four-run outburst against Mahle in the fifth by drilling a shot to the seats in right field for his third homer of the season. Corey Dickerson added his first home run since being acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay in February.
The day, however, belonged to Taillon. The former first-round pick was solid during his rookie season in 2016 but missed time last year after being diagnosed with testicular cancer last May. He returned after a five-week absence and struggled during the second half as Pittsburgh fell out of contention.
Still, Hurdle cautioned, “It’s April.”
“Let him pitch,” Hurdle said. “Let him show you who he is and what he is. Don’t need to write the end of the story now.”
The Reds have similar hopes for Mahle (1-1), who limited the Cubs to one hit in six innings in his 2018 debut. Mahle’s second start was rockier. He needed 29 pitches to get out of a first-inning jam and maneuvered in and out of trouble until the fifth. Josh Harrison singled, and Polanco followed with his home run. Starling Marte doubled and scored on Josh Bell’s single before Dickerson connected.
Mahle surrendered nine hits in 4 2/3 innings with one walk and two strikeouts.
“It was one of those starts where you battle the whole time,” he said.
Cincinnati third baseman Eugenio Suarez fractured his right thumb in the fourth inning after a Taillon fastball came up and in. Suarez remained in the game to run the bases but was pulled in favor of Cliff Pennington when the Reds went back out on the field. There is no timetable for Suarez’s return.
“He’s one of our best players,” Cincinnati catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “Any time you lose a guy like him in the middle of the order, it’s rough.”