Pirates tab Jameson Taillon as Opening Day starter, Chris Archer for home opener
BRADENTON, Fla. — Jameson Taillon was the kid who searched the spring-training box scores in the newspaper, following the progress of pitchers to see who would earn the Opening Day start.
For his hometown Houston Astros, Taillon remembers Scott Elarton getting the nod in 2001 and then eight consecutive seasons of Roy Oswalt. Taillon dreamed one day he would be handed the ball on the first day of baseball season, which continued when the Pittsburgh Pirates made him the No. 2 overall selection in the 2010 MLB Draft.
That day will come March 28, when Taillon is ticketed to make his first Opening Day start for the Pirates at the Cincinnati Reds. Manager Clint Hurdle announced the decision Saturday after practice at Pirate City: “I believe ‘Jamo’ earned it across the board.”
“It’s a big honor,” Taillon said. “I get to kick off the season for the boys, set the tone. Obviously, I care about the body of work, but it is a big honor to get the ball Opening Day. Growing up around baseball, there was a certain (aura) around Opening Day starter.”
The Pirates open the season with a three-game visit to Cincinnati, and Hurdle said Trevor Williams (14-10, 3.11 ERA) will pitch the second game and “targeted” Joe Musgrove (6-9, 4.06) to throw the third.
Chris Archer, who was 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA in 10 starts last season after being acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, is slated to start the home opener April 1 at PNC Park. Archer, 30, started four consecutive Opening Days for the Rays from 2015-18.
“Archer has done it in the past. There is the important aspect of Opening Day at home, as well,” Hurdle said. “So we’ve put two men in play that we think will represent the club the best way we can clean and set up the first four games of the season.”
It’s the first Opening Day start for Taillon, who was 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.178 WHIP over 1911⁄3 innings in 32 starts last season. The 27-year-old right-hander has a career record of 27-21 in three seasons.
“It’s something that every guy wants to have,” Taillon said. “I seriously mean this: I think we have a bunch of guys that could take the ball on Opening Day, so that makes it even more of an honor.”
Taillon said he, Williams and Musgrove received simultaneous text messages from Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, asking they meet with Hurdle. The trio went into the manager’s office together, sat on the couch and shared the excitement when Hurdle gave them the news.
Safe to say, Taillon was thrilled.
“I think the Opening Day starter can say something about the way you’re looked at as teammates and stuff, too,” Taillon said, “not just about stats on a baseball card, so it’s not something I take lightly. I know if I’m the Opening Day starter, the guys are going to look at me a certain way to be the guy. I’m excited for that opportunity.”
The distinction was awarded to Ivan Nova last year at Detroit and to Gerrit Cole at Fenway Park in Boston in 2017. Francisco Liriano is the most recent Pirates pitcher to start successive openers, from 2014-16.
Taillon started the home opener last year, a 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins highlighted by third baseman Colin Moran’s first-inning grand slam in his home debut.
Taillon pitched 51⁄3 innings, facing 20 batters and allowing four hits and two earned runs with nine strikeouts and no walks.
“The home opener last year was pretty exciting. It was electric. Colin hit that grand slam early in the game, and the place was going pretty nuts,” Taillon said. “You can downplay it as much as you want, but you’re going to be excited. I’ll be excited when I’m out there. I just have to use those nerves in the right way.”
Taillon has plenty of time to tame his nerves before his inaugural Opening Day start but was loose enough to joke about whether his first pitch would be a fastball, curveball or changeup.
But he takes the assignment seriously enough to know its significance.
“I’ve come a long way, being the Opening Day starter for one of the 30 major league teams,” Taillon said. “That’s pretty special right there. I have a long way to go. I have to put together a full year. It’s something I’m definitely proud of, something I can take with me the rest of my life.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .