Yesterday afternoon, there was a pretty interesting subplot for Pirate fans in the USA/Canada World Baseball Classic game: Jameson Taillon, dual US/Canadian citizen, was on the mound for Team Canada with a spot in the WBC's second round on the line. When I wrote about Taillon last Monday, I noted that Taillon's numbers in the minors haven't been great, but that all of the scout and prospect type guys that watch him pitch rave about him after they see him in person. I was pretty curious to get a look at Taillon with my own two eyes in a game that meant something, just to have an idea of what to expect from the kid in what I think is going to be a pretty important season for him.
It didn't take very long to understand why scouts rave about Taillon. For most of his start (4 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned run, 3 strikeouts, 1 walk) he kept the USA lineup off balance with a 94-96 mph fastball mixed in with a sharp, diving curveball. After giving up a leadoff double to David Wright in the second, he induced a passel of groundballs off of the bats of Ben Zobrist and Eric Hosmer and Shane Victorino and escaped the inning without giving up a run even with Taylor Green's error (thanks in part to Joe Torre's insistence on bunting with Adam Jones seemingly every time he bats, but still).
The highlight of Taillon's outing (at least for Pirate fans) definitely came in the third with Ryan Braun at the plate. Braun singled off of a first pitch fastball against Taillon in the first, but Taillon kept trying to get Braun to chase high fastballs and fell behind 3-0 in the count. He got a strike on the 3-1 pitch, then went with a 3-1 curve that Braun couldn't do anything but look at. After a foul ball, Taillon came back with another 3-2 curve that froze Braun so solidly in his place the pitch might as well have been Medusa. Braun didn't even wait for the umpire's call, he just walked off the field.
This is not to place too much meaning on one result. The MLB hitters likely had almost no book on Taillon since he's barely even pitched at the Double-A level, let alone above it. Taillon used his fastball and his curveball almost exclusively, which is something he won't get away with for long at the big league level as a starter once hitters see him a few times. On top of it all, behind Taillon in the field was cautionary tale Adam Loewen, who shut down the USA in the 2006 WBC as a top prospect at the age of 21 despite having almost no upper-minor league experience. By mid-season 2008, injuries had ended Loewen's career as a pitcher and he was transitioning to the outfield.
All of that sort of goes beyond the real point though. Jameson Taillon took the mound on Sunday and faced a lineup full of big league hitters in a game that was more meaningful than a run of the mill spring training game. He had a few advantages, yes, but I don't think there was one person that watched him in his four innings yesterday that didn't come away impressed. This is pretty much all that we as Pirate fans could've asked for from Taillon's stint in the WBC. As you could probably tell in my post about him last week, his numbers at Bradenton last year had me a little worried. Seeing him pitch yesterday, though, I'm much less worried. There's no question that Taillon's got the stuff to be a good Major League pitcher. Getting him there from Double-A, that's the task now.