Jameson Taillon, Andrew McCutchen lead Pirates past Phillies
PHILADELPHIA — Just when some said the Pirates' season was falling into irreconcilable disarray, Jameson Taillon threw them a curve.
Former MVP Andrew McCutchen did his best to help stop the bleeding, too.
McCutchen homered twice and Taillon had a career-high nine strikeouts in gritting through five shutout innings of the Pirates' 3-0 win against the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday.
The Pirates snapped a four-game losing streak, winning for the first time since Taillon's last start. His outing before that? It stopped a (two-game) skid, too.
"I don't know if 'stopper' is a real word or not," Taillon said, "but I definitely want to be a guy where guys feel confident when they see me in there."
Taillon (5-2) lowered his season ERA to 2.73, which would rank sixth in the National League if he hadn't missed a month because of testicular cancer surgery and had enough innings to qualify. The Pirates' winning percentage during Taillon's starts (.545) is better than the other five pitchers used to start games this season.
"He likes taking the ball," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He likes being a guy out there every fifth day to give his team a chance to win. He's developing into that type of (front-end) guy."
Taillon's curveball kept the Phillies off-balance. Seven of Taillon's strikeouts came via the curve — the first three of those looking and the next four swinging. Per Statcast, Taillon induced six swinging strikes and eight called strikes on 27 curveballs. Only once did a Phillies batter put one in play.
Taillon got as many called strikes and more swinging strikes with 27 curveballs than he did with 70 fastballs.
"(The curve) felt good. I had it for strikes. I had it for chase," Taillon said. "It wasn't very good in the bullpen before the game. I don't know if I threw one good one. But the game can speed you up and kind of fix your mechanics a little bit, and when there's a hitter in there, it's kind of do-or-die, and you've got to make your pitches."
Taillon, who struck out seven of the nine Phillies in the batting order, recorded the most strikeouts of any Pirates pitcher this season. The only flaw in his outing? The strikeouts necessitated longer at-bats, whoch got his pitch count up (102) and led to an early exit after five innings.
That meant manager Clint Hurdle had to piece together four innings from a beleaguered bullpen. Daniel Hudson struck out two in pitching a scoreless, eight-pitch sixth, but Tony Watson walked two of the four he faced and recorded only one out (via sacrifice) in the seventh.
A cut on one of Watson's knuckles was bleeding. He was examined by Pirates head trainer Todd Tomczyk but stayed in the game. He walked the next batter to load the bases with one out and was lifted for Juan Nicasio, who got Aaron Altherr to ground into a double play to preserve the shutout and end the threat.
Nicasio stayed on to pitch the eighth — even waiting out a 22-minute rain delay following the first pitch of the inning. He retired the side in order.
Felipe Rivero worked the ninth for his fourth save but not without a little drama. The tying run came to the plate after a one-out walk of Andrew Knapp was followed by a Andres Blanco single.
That appeared to make Rivero angry.
" 'That's it. There's the switch, that's it,' " Rivero recalled after the game saying to himself on the mound. " 'That's all they're going to do.' "
Rivero struck out Daniel Nava and Freddy Galvis on three pitches each — the final two at more than 100 mph.
A day after being NL player of the month for June, McCutchen went 3 for 4 and crushed two solo homers to left (in the sixth and eighth innings). Each had an exit velocity of 108 mph; more than any other hit in the game by either team. McCutchen's home run in the eighth off of Ricardo Pinto traveled 422 feet, within 4 feet of the longest of the team-high 16 he's hit this season.
"He hit the first one good," Hurdle said, "and he hit the second one more good."
It was the 14th multi-homer game of McCutchen's career, his second this season (June 13 against Colorado). McCutchen has five home runs in his past four games at Citizens Bank Park, and he has reached base safely in 15 of his past 22 plate appearances overall.
Other than McCutchen, the Pirates managed just two hits against rookie Mark Leiter Jr. and two relievers. Even in winning Tuesday, the Pirates have scored just six runs in their past 35 innings.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.