Pirates pitching prospect Jameson Taillon a changed man

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ALTOONA, Pa. -- The weather had not fully passed. Raindrops fell at the start of the second game of a doubleheader, necessary because rain stopped a game early the previous night.

Jameson Taillon grabbed a Styrofoam container of food after 14 innings of baseball. He had an evening to pass before a bus trip to Akron, Ohio, where he was to start the first game of the series.

"It's really got that feel of true full-season baseball," said Taillon, who at 21 began the season at Class AA Altoona. "You're doing your thing every fifth day. There's not real hard inning or pitch limits. You're going deep into games, you're working through a lineup a bunch of times."

The season has opened Taillon's eyes to the rigors of higher-level minor league baseball. Taillon, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect behind Gerrit Cole entering the season and the next stud pitcher on the way to the majors, is learning the importance of a diversified arsenal and trusting his routine.

Today's game

Matchup: Pirates (pitcher TBA) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (Pettibone 3-3), 7:05 p.m.

Where: PNC Park.

TV: Root Sports.

"In the lower levels, you've got the strength coach telling you, '... you've got to lift this, you've got to do this, you've got to do that,' " he said. "You have to do these exact exercises. Up here, guys start building off of it. Maybe squat will be the exercise, but I like doing single-leg squat, or different things.

"There's not coordinators here all the time, in and out. It's really up to you to do your stuff."

Taillon, a 6-foot-6 right-hander selected as the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, hits the upper 90s on speed with his fastball. He showed the world his knee-buckling curveball in the World Baseball Classic this spring, when he allowed two runs, one earned, in four innings for Team Canada against Team USA.

Perfecting his changeup became a top priority this season, because he knows he needs it and everyone is talking about it.

"Everybody," he said. "Literally everybody."

Taillon noted that when he watches Justin Verlander -- also a big power right-hander with a good fastball -- pitch, Verlander throws 15-20 changeups per start. The fastball-curveball mix worked fine in the South Atlantic League and Florida State League, but the advanced level of hitters in the Class AA Eastern League and higher means he needs his changeup.

"Starting to use it, I've noticed the pressure it takes off my fastball," he said. "I don't have to be quite as perfect with it."

Taillon has a 2.90 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 832/3 innings in 15 starts in Altoona this season. He will start tonight on the road against Binghamton.

"Definitely the stuff is there," said Altoona manager Carlos Garcia, who also managed Taillon in Class A Bradenton in 2012. "He's just got to be able to work on his delivery and be consistent in the strike zone."

Taillon's walk rate increased from 2.4 per nine innings, on average, in 2012 to 3.3 per nine this year.

"Even guys with big-league experience understand what kind of stuff this kid has," Garcia said. "They're being patient with him when he's not in the strike zone."

Part of the increase stems from another adaptation to the advanced competition: Taillon wants to be more competitive with his pitches.

"Going back to the lower levels, 2-0, 3-1, I'd sometime get away with just piping a fastball down the middle," he said. "Up here I'm willing to, not nibble, but be a little more competitive with every pitch. Thinking down, thinking corners, not just giving in to guys.

"If you see my walks they're not all over the place walks. They're competitive walks."

Altoona is one step closer to the majors, but a world removed from Bradenton, Taillon's previous stop, where he had a bevy of golf courses and fishing locations to choose from. Road trips no longer remain in the state, and he now travels from Richmond, Va., to Portland, Maine, for road games.

In that start against Akron, Taillon allowed two runs in seven innings without a walk. It appears he is handling the transition just fine.

NOTES -- Pirates chief marketing officer Lou DePaoli left the organization to join the New York Mets, where he will serve as chief revenue officer, the Mets announced Monday. DePaoli joined the Pirates in 2008. He previously worked for the NBA and the Florida Marlins. "This is an exciting time to join the Mets," DePaoli said in a statement released by the Mets. "There's a tremendous opportunity to grow and expand our connection to current and future ticket purchasers, fans and partners at a time when the future on field is also very promising." ... Wandy Rodriguez, who is on the 15-day disabled list because of a tight left forearm, received a platelet-rich plasma injection, the team announced Monday. He will rest and rehabilitate for up to three weeks. He has not pitched since June 5.

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published July 2, 2013 4:00 AM


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