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Benz: Pirates pitching Jameson Taillon now makes no sense

| Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, 7:34 p.m.
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon delivers during the first inning against the Cardinals on Saturday, July 15, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon delivers during the first inning against the Cardinals on Saturday, July 15, 2017, at PNC Park.

Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make his final start of 2017 Sunday against St. Louis.

He shouldn't.

It's a meaningless game in the standings for the Pirates that will be overshadowed massively by whatever moment is about to occur in the Steelers game in Chicago.

In fact, he probably shouldn't have been pitching at all this month.

Why bother?

Just more wear and tear on an arm and a body that's been through hell in his 25 years.

Unless you don't consider a line drive to the head, a Tommy John surgery, a hernia surgery and a battle against testicular cancer hellacious.

Pitching coach Ray Searage revealed that prior to the start of September there had only ever been “one casual conversation” about ending Taillon's season prematurely.

“He's a roll-up-your-sleeves, get-things-done guy,” manager Clint Hurdle said of Taillon earlier this month. “And I do think there is a benefit to finishing with a foothold.”

Yeah. I get that. And mentally, Taillon probably could've used the emotional boost of a potentially productive final month given all the strife he has been through. Plus he offered a physical rationale for why pitching in September has been important to him.

“I do want to finish,'' Taillon said. “And finish strong. Going into next year, you want to build up your innings this year so you can throw as many as you want (next year).

“So if I were to finish at 100 innings this year, it'd be hard to throw 200 next year.”

Well maybe all that would've been accomplished if Taillon had at least been unplugged after his Sept. 2 outing vs. Cincinnati. A performance that saw him throw six scoreless innings and allow just four baserunners. A performance that resulted in both Hurdle and Searage saying they saw some things being fixed in Taillon's delivery.

“He got on top of the ball the best we have seen in awhile,” Hurdle said after that game. “He got his arm up. He got his hand on top of the ball. There was downhill angle with sink. The curveball showed up. The changeup showed up.”

Searage said it was simply a matter Taillon of getting the ball from his glove earlier because failing to do so in previous starts had caused him to lose his angle on his fastball.

But in his two starts since then, Taillon has given up eight earned runs and 18 hits in 9 23 innings pitched. So whatever was fixed seems broken again.

Or something else broke, instead.

And whatever “foothold” that was gained appears to have been lost.

If Taillon's start Sunday goes like his other outings this month, he probably will wrap up with about 20-21 innings pitched in September with about 350 pitches thrown.

Will that erode his arm so significantly that his 2018 will be affected?

Unlikely.

But will that additional workload be responsible for what Taillon described as “a bridge” to getting to 200 innings pitched in 2018?

Equally unlikely.

In all honesty, if Taillon throws a shutout or he gets blown off the mound in three innings, will it matter?

So with this guy's history, why risk it?

Every time he pitches, I worry about black cats walking across General Robinson. Is there going to be lightning in the area? There's been lots of construction in Downtown Pittsburgh lately. Has he perhaps walked under any ladders or broken a mirror in the clubhouse between starts?

In my interactions with Taillon after a poor start, he rarely has been a pitcher who gripes about the number of runs, hits or walks allowed. Instead, he always comes off as disappointed in himself when he doesn't go deep in games and his innings count is low. So it's clear why shutting down a season would have been counterproductive to him from a standpoint of pride.

Practically, though, it's tough to grasp the risk-reward ratio.

Then again, really grasping much of anything that has gone on this season at PNC Park is difficult to do.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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