Pirates rookie Jameson Taillon continued to pitch with poise and polish beyond his years, throwing eight scoreless innings and leading the Bucs to a 4-0 win over the Padres on Thursday at PNC Park.
"His composure's incredible, as young as he is, 10 starts in. He's learning," Pirates third baseman David Freese said. "He's always watching, always talking the game. He wants to be great out there, and it shows."
Making his 10th start in the Majors -- and his first since officially, and happily, shedding his "prospect" status -- Taillon was efficient and in control throughout the afternoon. He didn't pound the zone with strikes like he has over the past month, but he forced the Padres to put the ball in play and let his defense go to work, scooping up 10 groundouts. Taillon allowed three hits and two walks, striking out four, as his ERA dropped to 2.85.
"I think incrementally, he's just working to get a little bit better," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Pitch efficiency continues to be first and foremost for me. That's very, very attractive. … Love the rhythm and pace he works at."
As Taillon gains experience in the Majors, opponents' scouting reports on him continue to grow. Yet he has shown no trouble adjusting to the league. The right-hander added a few more changeups to his usual mix of fastballs and curveballs on Thursday, keeping the Padres off-balance and adding new wrinkles to his game.
"It helps get guys off my fastball," Taillon said. "At the same time, I think my strengths are good enough to carry me in this league for a while."
The Pirates' lineup went to work early against Padres lefty Christian Friedrich, with Freese leading the charge from the cleanup spot. Freese went 2-for-4 with a pair of opposite-field RBI hits in his first two at-bats. Gregory Polanco added an RBI single in the third, and Josh Harrison bounced a run-scoring single up the middle in the fourth off Friedrich. With the win, the Pirates finished a 4-2 homestand and pulled within two games of the second National League Wild Card spot.
The Padres wouldn't threaten much after that, finishing with only four hits -- all singles. Pirates pitchers faced the minimum in five of the nine innings.
"Any game looks flat when you don't get runners on base," Padres manager Andy Green said. "There's just not much you can do. The game plan today was: He's got a long arm stroke, if we get some baserunners on, we love to pressure guys on the basepaths. He kept our guys off base, and you don't get on base, you can't apply pressure."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Mr. Freese: With Jung Ho Kang struggling and a lefty starter on the mound, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle elected to use Sean Rodriguez at first base and keep Freese at third. As Hurdle pointed out before the game, Freese has earned the "lion's share" of playing time at third with his performance and Kang's slump. Freese continued to prove his value -- and validate the Pirates' mid-spring signing -- as he drove in Pittsburgh's first two runs.
"I think it's one of the reasons he's had the success he's had in his career," Hurdle said. "He's been that hitter the whole time."
Make it eight: Taillon benefited from a few well-hit line drives landing in his defenders' gloves, but he was still throwing 94-95 mph and finding the bottom of the strike zone with his curveball in the eighth inning. It was the second time in his Major League career that Taillon completed eight scoreless innings, as he also fell one inning shy of a shutout against the Mets in New York on June 14. Taillon crossed the 100-pitch mark for the second straight start, throwing 101.
In a pickle: The Bucs scored once in the bottom of the fourth inning, but they could've had more if not for a pair of baserunning mishaps. With one out, Friedrich threw to pick off Harrison at first base, and Eric Fryer was nailed at home when he tried to advance during the ensuing rundown. Two batters later, Harrison rounded third base too widely on an infield single, and was tagged out in yet another rundown.
Heavy workload: With 87 1/3 innings pitched this season, Friedrich passed his career high of 84 2/3 set back in 2012. He spent the past two seasons as a reliever and is still building his arm strength back up. As a result, the Padres will likely cut his season a bit short this year -- though they haven't determined a set number of future starts that Friedrich will make.
"We're also looking toward the future, so it's nice to know that they're not just going to wear you out to fill up innings," Friedrich said. "They've told [me] that they like what they see, and keep building off it. It's nice to know that they have your back with minding your innings and making sure they take control of that."
QUOTABLE "It was a really good three-pitch mix from [Taillon] today. I thought that was some of the better stuff we've seen all year. Kind of shocked with how many changeups he threw. Threw a lot, threw them well. Kind of against what he did his last game out, but give him credit there." --Green
"He's a little bit of a riverboat gambler up there. He takes some shots in some RBI situations. Then there's times he drops anchor with two strikes and battles. He's got some veteran experience that plays very well for him with runners in scoring position." --Hurdle, on Freese
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS This was Taillon's first win at PNC Park, but the Pirates improved to 5-1 in his six starts along the Allegheny River. Pittsburgh has won six of the rookie's last seven starts overall, with the only loss in that span coming in Milwaukee on July 30.
WHAT'S NEXT Padres:Paul Clemens takes the hill Friday as the Padres open a three-game series against the Mets in New York with first pitch slated for 4:10 p.m. PT. The right-hander was removed early from his last start after not hustling to first base on a bunt attempt. Since joining the Padres, Clemens has been encouraged to throw his high-spin curveball more frequently, and he's had great success with the pitch.
Pirates: Right-hander Ivan Nova will make his second start for the Pirates as they begin a six-game, West Coast road trip at 10:10 p.m. ET on Friday night at Dodger Stadium. Nova threw seven innings of three-run ball in his Pittsburgh debut, and he's fared well against the NL throughout his career, going 8-3 with a 2.72 ERA in 17 games.