The Pittsburgh Pirates held top prospect Jameson Taillon to strict pitch counts and innings limits during his first year in the Minors. Now free to pitch a little deeper into games, the young Bucs hurler's confidence seems to be growing every outing.
MLB.com's No. 8 prospect scattered three hits and a walk over a career-high six shutout innings Sunday to lead the Class A Advanced Bradenton Marauders to a 4-1 victory over the Jupiter Hammerheads.
"I felt pretty good out there. I kept throwing my fastball down hill and I got a lot of ground balls that kept my pitch count down," he said.
"I'm a power fastball, curveball guy, but my pitching coach [Mike Steele] challenged me to throw my changeup more. That has kept guys off my fastball and stopped them just sitting on something hard. I feel like I have a three-pitch mix and that I can use any pitch in any count. That being said, the season is young and there is a lot of work to be done."
The Marauders have been stretching Taillon -- who did not pitch more than five innings in any of his 23 starts in his rookie season in West Virginia -- out over the first month of the season.
The 20-year-old allowed two hits over 3 2/3 innings in his Class A Advanced debut in St. Lucie on April 7, and he surrendered a run over five frames in each of his next two outings.
Last year, Taillon averaged around four innings a start, largely because he only pitched 62 innings in his senior year at The Woodlands High School (Texas) and the organization did not want to increase his workload too much too quickly.
The 6-foot-6 flamethrower faced one batter above the minimum through the first four innings Sunday, and he did not face a runner in scoring position until the fifth frame when Ryan Fisher's two-out walk was followed by Daniel Pertusati's single.
Taillon got Isaac Galloway to ground out to end the frame -- one of 11 groundball outs -- but he was forced to work out of the stretch again in the sixth when second baseman Benji Gonzalez misplayed Christian Yelich's ground ball to prolong the inning. Yelich stole second base and advanced to third on a wild pitch, but Taillon retired Mark Canha with his 80th and final pitch to put another zero on the board.
He has allowed just one run in his last 17 innings.
"Last year being my first year in pro ball I understood they were getting me used to pitching every five days and having strong outings," Taillon added. "Being in that rotation was strange. But this year, if you earn five innings they will give you a fifth inning; if you earn six innings, they will give you a sixth inning.
"You work hard to go deep into games and our organization preaches for you to go as deep as you can. Last year I still had that mentality of throwing hard and thinking I could get by with it. But this year it has been about driving the ball down with angle and using my height to my advantage."
The outing gave the second overall pick in the 2010 Draft his first win since last June and his second dominant outing against the Hammerheads in six days. When the teams met in Bradenton earlier in the week, Taillon surrendered three hits and a walk while striking out six batters over five innings but didn't factor into the decision.
"It was the same Jupiter Hammerheads team that I saw six days ago, so I knew what they were trying to do," Taillon said. "I saw a lot of them in Greensboro in the Sally League last year, too, but I just went out there and pitched to my strengths."
On Sunday, Casey Sadler allowed a run on five hits over two innings of relief and Quinton Miller worked around a ninth-inning hit to earn his ninth save of the year. Catcher Carlos Paulino and center fielder Mel Rojas each recorded two hits and third baseman Stefan Welch plated a pair of runs in the win.
Jupiter starter Rob Rasmussen (1-4) suffered the loss after allowing four runs -- two earned -- on six hits and a walk over six innings.