Kevin Gorman: In Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon, Pirates make perfect picks for openers
DUNEDIN, Fla. — Clint Hurdle called us back in to his office for an impromptu announcement, saying he loves sharing when nobody asks.
Of course, we'd already asked Hurdle about who would be the Pirates' starting pitcher on opening day and for the home opener.
But this skipper steers his own ship, and he wasn't telling us until he told his players. Now, Hurdle had decided, sharing was caring.
Fans should care about what Hurdle shared, especially those who aren't planning to boycott the home opener April 2 at PNC Park.
Ivan Nova will start the Pirates' season opener March 29 against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
It's a great gesture to Nova, a 31-year-old who split time between the bullpen and the starting rotation with the New York Yankees before becoming a rotation regular with the Pirates in 2016.
Earning the nod to start the season opener is a badge of honor for pitchers, one Nova will wear with pride.
"Nova's never had one," Hurdle said. "Nova's the dean of the starting rotation. … It's kind of cool to see a guy in your over-30 club that's getting his first opening-day opportunity."
But Jameson Taillon is their ace. That makes him the perfect pick to pitch the home opener and the perfect player to bring Pirates fans back to the ballpark.
The nod to Nova makes sense, despite his 11-14 record and 4.14 ERA last season. He pitched the most innings (187) and tied for the most starts (31) of any returning pitcher for the Pirates. Nova also has an experience edge in American League ballparks after seven seasons with the Yankees, and has pitched at Comerica Park four times.
Of course, you could also make the argument Nova pitches better at PNC Park than Taillon, given Nova's superior numbers. Nova is 10-3, with a 2.57 ERA and opponents are batting .256/.286/.381. Taillon is 6-7, with a 4.04 ERA and opponents are batting .272/.320/.428.
But this isn't really about any of that.
This starting pitching setup allows the Pirates to buy time for Joe Musgrove to join the starting rotation. Musgrove, acquired from the Astros in the Cole trade, hasn't pitched in a game yet this spring because of right shoulder discomfort but said Wednesday he believes he will be ready by the start of the season. The Pirates don't seem quite as convinced about that timeline.
The Pirates open with three games at Detroit over four days, followed by two games against the Twins over three days. That will allow Nova enough rest to pitch twice in the first week, meaning Musgrove doesn't have to join the rotation until the second week.
When I asked Taillon on Sunday about his preference to pitch the season opener versus the home opener, he played it straight.
"I don't care. If I don't pitch opening day, I'd still rather pitch one of the first couple of games just to get out there," Taillon said.
"Getting opening day is probably the bigger honor but they're both big and definitely an honor — but not something I'm striving to go out and out-perform other guys in spring training to get."
Naming Taillon the starter for the home opener isn't some silly publicity stunt. But as a public relations move, it's a smart one by the Pirates, one that shows they are finally listening to their fans.
Pirates fans were furious over the trades of Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen. Dealing the ace and face of the franchise saved the Pirates about $20 million in salary, but left holes in the starting lineup.
The Pirates already made one bold move, trading for All-Star left fielder Corey Dickerson. This one could address the apathy that has followed from a frustrated fan base.
Less than a month before the home opener, tickets are still available in five dozen sections at PNC Park. What better draw is there for fans than to see Taillon pitch?
The 26-year-old right-hander has the pedigree of a first-round pick (No. 2 overall in 2010) and a personality to match.
Taillon has overcome Tommy John surgery, taking a line drive off his head and testicular cancer in his young career, and his determination makes him a fan favorite.
"You want a guy to do something meaningful on the home opener because it's an exciting day that they hopefully play down to the adrenaline," Hurdle said.
"If you're going to pick somebody that's dealt with more adversity than Taillon, I don't know if you'll find one. So, the home opener, I don't think that's anything that's going to rattle him right now. "
No, but it's something — and someone — Pirates fans can root for and rally around.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.