Pirates notebook: Taillon morphs from thrower to pitcher

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, 8:18 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — If anyone still had doubts about whether Jameson Taillon deserved to be rated one of the top prospects in baseball, the right-hander probably won them over last spring during the World Baseball Classic.

Pitching for Canada, Taillon — who at the time was ranked the Pirates' second-best minor league pitcher behind Gerrit Cole — tossed four solid innings against Team USA. One of Taillon's three strikeouts in the outing came when he outdueled Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun. Taillon fell behind 3-1, then used a couple of breaking balls to get Braun looking.

The battle showed Taillon was more than just a hard thrower. He's becoming a pitcher.

“It's fun to play the chess game,” Taillon said Tuesday. “But it's tough for a guy like me, because I'm a stuff guy with a good fastball and curveball. I don't want to get too caught up in it, because if I pitch to my strengths, I feel that I can beat a lot of hitters' strengths. But, when you're facing the big hitters, you can't just say, ‘My strengths are better than yours,' because they might not always be. It's a balancing act, and that's the fun part of it.”

Those kind of mental battles become more frequent as a pitcher advances in the minors.

“Everyone says the highest jump is High-A to Double-A, but I actually noticed the biggest jump was Double-A to Triple-A,” Taillon said.

“The higher up you go, I think the more fun it is to pitch and the more it's about pitchability, working and reading hitters. That part of it was fun for me, a good competitive push for me.”

Last year, Taillon made 20 starts for Double-A Altoona then was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. He almost certainly will begin 2014 at Indy but is expected to reach the majors before the season is out.

Taillon was supposed to pitch in the Arizona Fall League but was shut down after sustaining a mild groin strain in his first start.

“I'd already thrown so many innings (147) last year that it wasn't the end of the world,” Taillon said. “It's nothing serious, and it's not bothering my routine now.”

Taillon will get a non-roster invitation to spring training. This week, he's attending the four-day minicamp at Pirate City.

“It's called a strength and conditioning camp, but I'm focusing on my throwing more right now,” Taillon said. “Once you get past New Year's (Day), you start gearing up and getting excited for spring (training). That's when the arm care takes priority.”

It's showtime

PNC Park finally will get a chance to shine on ESPN's “Sunday Night Baseball.” The May 11 game against the St. Louis Cardinals will begin at 8:05 p.m., instead of the usual 1:35 p.m., to accommodate the national television broadcast.

Three other games have had their start times changed due to TV. The Opening Day game March 31 against the Chicago Cubs has been moved from 1:35 p.m. to 1:05 p.m. to accommodate another ESPN national telecast. The game will also be broadcast on ROOT Sports.

The May 24 game against the Washington Nationals has been moved from 4:05 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. for a national Fox broadcast, and the Aug. 30 start time against the Cincinnati Reds has changed from 7:05 p.m. to 4:05 p.m. and will be televised by Fox Sports 1.

Because of the time change of the Aug. 30 game, the originally scheduled postgame concert featuring Gavin DeGraw will be changed to a “Fan Jam” concert.

Andino signs

Shortstop Robert Andino was signed to a minor league contact with an invitation to spring training.

Andino, 29, played in 29 games with the Seattle Mariners last season before being designated for assignment. The Pirates acquired him July 31, and Andino batted .302 in 25 games with Triple-A Indianapolis.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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