Bucs fire shutout as Taillon returns to form

Bucs fire shutout as Taillon returns to form

PITTSBURGH -- Jameson Taillon has already overcome so much this year, so why not add a second-half slump to the list?

Entering Saturday's matchup vs. the Reds, Taillon had posted a 7.68 ERA over his previous nine starts, the third-worst mark in the Majors since the All-Star break. He put that stretch behind him, allowing three hits over six scoreless innings, and relievers A.J. Schugel, Daniel Hudson and Felipe Rivero preserved the Pirates' 5-0 win over the Reds at PNC Park.

The shutout snapped the Pirates' four-game losing streak and might have signaled a return to form for Taillon.

"I haven't really had that tough of a stretch like I just had at this level. It's tough," Taillon said. "This is the best league in the world. Results are all that matters. In the Minor Leagues, there's always developmental things. Up here, you want to pitch well and keep your team in games."

Anyone would have understood if Taillon was simply tired, worn down by everything he has been through this season. The 25-year-old was diagnosed with testicular cancer in early May and back on the mound by mid-June. But the issue, Taillon said, was actually that he felt too strong.

His pitches lacked their usual bite, so he focused on what made him successful in the past: staying tall in his delivery, finding his release point and pounding the bottom of the strike zone. The work paid off.

Taillon's sterling six frames

Taillon recorded half of his outs on the ground, struck out four and issued just one intentional walk, to Joey Votto, while working six innings on 96 pitches.

"Very good stuff. Very good finish," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It was a good outing for him. It was fun to see."

At his best, Taillon has calmly navigated his way through jams. That was the case in the sixth, when Billy Hamilton hit a one-out single then stole second and third. The Pirates put Votto on first base to bring up Adam Duvall. Taillon struck him out on three pitches: curveball, fastball, swing-and-miss curveball.

Taillon K's Duvall to strand two

"I just realized with two outs, I needed to get the hitter," Taillon said. "I made big pitches when I needed to."

It was also important for Taillon, a key member of the Pirates' rotation as they begin looking toward next season. For all his success earlier this season, his recent slump inflated his ERA to 4.75. In September, he can lower that mark to a more palatable level.

"It's my first year going start to finish in the big leagues. I want to finish strong," Taillon said. "I want to go out on a high note. Each start's an opportunity for me to learn something new about what I do and my craft."

What's the most important thing he's learned this year?

"More than anything, I've learned that I belong," he said. "Good start or bad start, I feel like I'm a Major League starting pitcher."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.