Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: Pirates' Ace In The Hole Is Taillon

Chris Mack
April 03, 2018 - 8:39 am

Jameson Taillon may have only gone 5⅓ innings for the Pirates in their 5-4 home opening win against the Minnesota Twins, but his nine strikeout performance in his first victory of the season did more than just tie a career high in Ks for the team’s #1 starter.

He may have given fans -and the team- something they’ve been searching for since Taillon debuted in June 2016.

Over the better part of the last two seasons, Pirates fans seemingly enjoyed few arguments more than the discussion of whether Gerrit Cole was an “ace” or not.

After a dominant 2015 in which Cole won 19 games and struck out over 202 batters in 208 innings with a 2.60 ERA, the question didn’t even have to be asked. Cole was right there with the Clayton Kershaws, Zack Greinkes, Jake Arrietas, & Max Scherzers of the world. Not only was he locked in as the Pirates’ #1 starter, he was a bona fide ace.

Then came 2016.

Cole went deeper than six innings in just two of his first 10 starts, and frustrated fans began stripping Cole of the term “ace,” especially when during a DL stint, Taillon made his Major League debut and promptly became the most dependable part of the Bucco rotation, laying down 11 quality starts in his first 14 outings.

Cole returned from the disabled list and looked like a shell of his healthy self, racking up a 4.73 ERA and 2-5 record in eight starts before being shut down again.

At the same time, Taillon was finishing his rookie year with a winning record (5-4), 3.38 ERA, and 1.12 WHIP. He ended up making just three fewer starts than Cole.

Like that, the mystique around Cole vanished.

The next possible “ace” had been found, and what do you know, he was more dependable, less volatile, and a whole hell of a lot easier to like than the old “ace.”

Whether Cole was truly an “ace,” or whether he was just a really good number one starter is moot at this point, and really misses the forest for the trees: As great as Cole is capable of being - and he certainly showed he’s still capable of being truly great in his Astros debut - he was never going to fulfill expectations here in Pittsburgh if he was counted on to be the emotional rock of a young rotation. He thrived under the veteran tutelage of A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, & Edinson Volquez. It appears he’s primed to do the same in Houston under Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, and ironically enough, Morton again.

What the Pirates were never going to get with Cole, they get in spades from Taillon: A coolly calm and collected leader who at the age of 26 acts like a wise old veteran. There aren’t any red-faced displays of stalking off the mound, there isn’t any energy wasted on overemotive dugout arguments. Taillon knows what’s worth battling - he’s overcome Tommy John surgery, hernia surgery, and testicular cancer - and knows that leadership sometimes comes from quietly setting an example on the mound or something as simple as setting up a group text between starting pitchers so they can organize breakfast or coffee together.

“There’s a good chemistry, good relationships with all the young pictures,” said Taillon.

“It’s really not forced, it’s something that just comes naturally to all of us.”

Perhaps, for the first time in two years, the Pirates and their fans have naturally found their “ace.”