No ‘Cutch, no Cole, no problems so far for young Pirates
”I guess I can trip people on the way to the kitchen,” the linchpin of Pittsburgh’s young starting rotation said with a laugh.
Clubhouse manager Scott Bonnett scooted Taillon over a few spots during the offseason to some prime real estate in one of the corners, a position that offers a quick exit should Taillon need it.
It also confers, at least in a small way, a sense of status. The last two tenants of Taillon’s new digs happened to be Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett, important figures in Pittsburgh’s run to three straight playoff berths from 2013-15.
”Those two guys had some pretty good things working for them here,” Taillon said.
At the moment, Taillon does, too. He overpowered the Minnesota Twins for more than five innings in Pittsburgh’s 5-4 victory at cold, cloudy and not particularly crowded PNC Park on Monday, a victory that gave the Pirates their third 4-0 start since 1983 and provided an early glimmer of something resembling hope in a season with modest expectations after Cole and five-time All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen were dealt in January.
”Every game seems like someone new is stepping up, someone else is doing their job,” Taillon said.
On Monday it was Taillon tying a career-high by striking out nine, with new third baseman Colin Moran drilling a first-inning grand slam. Over the weekend in Detroit, Gregory Polanco drove in four runs in the opener, Trevor Williams tossed six no-hit innings in the second game and closer Felipe Rivero picked up saves in both ends of a doubleheader.
If Pittsburgh is going to contend in the hyper competitive NL Central after moving McCutchen and Cole, this is how the Pirates will have to do it. And they know it.
”It’s going to be pitching staff doing shutouts once in a while,” Taillon said. ”It’s going to be running the bases, all sorts of different ways. So far it’s working.”
Even if manager Clint Hurdle is quick to point out that ”so far” is not very far into the six-month grind in perhaps the toughest division in baseball.
”I think it’s too early for us to get caught up in that,” Hurdle said. ”We’re just going to continue to show up and play the game. The game lets you know where you need to improve.”
And there is plenty of room of improvement for the Pirates. The bullpen has been a high-wire act, blowing big leads in the opener in Detroit and nearly letting an early five-run cushion get away on Monday.
”I told you the bullpen’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be fun,” Hurdle said. ”We’re going to cut some teeth. There are going to be days when the guys grow and develop.”
There will also be days when they don’t.
Yet the Pirates have at least momentarily tuned out concerns that the franchise is headed back to irrelevance. The 30,186 who showed up Monday – the lowest-attended opener since 1985 – were treated to a day when all the ”ifs” the club is banking on went the right way. Taillon dealt. Moran swung. The bullpen made do.
”It kind of falls on us, and us young guys need to do our jobs,” Taillon said.
Each of the last two times Pittsburgh began the season 4-0 – in 2003 and 2016 – it finished under .500. Still, going unbeaten through most of opening week certainly beats the alternative. When the Pirates arrive at the ballpark on Wednesday to face the Twins, they’ll have a shot at going 5-0 for the first time since 1983.
That team, by the way, finished 84-78. Anything close to that number would be a considerable step up after finishing 75-87 last fall. For now they’ll settle for undefeated. Nobody is talking about 162-0, but Pittsburgh remains confident it will have the power to surprise.
”The lineup is longer (and) I think the lineup is stronger,” Hurdle said. ”I think the starting rotation, the added experience is going to help. We need some guys to nail down some roles in the bullpen and get the ball to Felipe. I like our team.”
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