Posted on May 4, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
One of the best starting rotations in baseball is officially hurting. The Pittsburgh Pirates announced Saturday that Jameson Taillon has been shut down for at least a month and placed on the 10-day IL. The club’s opening day starter has been diagnosed with a flexor tendon strain. The injury is a huge blow to a Pirates team that began Saturday a game under .500 despite having the second-best rotation ERA in the National League.
Taillon says he’s been dealing with discomfort in his arm all season. The 27-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 when he was still in the minors, so any significant discomfort around the elbow is a cause for concern. However, while Taillon will get a second opinion, there’s nothing to suggest he’s at risk for the surgery again. Nevertheless, it’s bad enough for the Pirates to shut him down from any throwing for at least four weeks.
“I probably first noticed something was a little different back in spring training, but having had surgery on this part of my arm, I wasn’t really sure what’s kind of wear and tear and what’s a problem,” Taillon explained to reporters Saturday. “So I was just pitching with it and managing it and then it hit a point where I realized this was probably something different.”
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His performance early in the season indicates that something could be amiss. After winning 14 games and posting a 3.20 ERA last season, Taillon has been a little more erratic this season. He’s had a couple of outstanding starts, but he’s been rather mediocre overall. In his seven starts, Taillon is 2-3 with a 4.10 ERA. Those numbers are fine, but the Pirates know that Taillon is capable of being much better.
Losing Taillon is the second big blow to the Pittsburgh rotation this season. Chris Archer was placed on the IL last weekend with thumb inflammation. His performance suffered in his most recent starts when his thumb started acting up. The club confirmed Saturday that Archer won’t be back after the 10-day minimum on the IL, adding to the team’s problems now that Taillon is joining him on the shelf.
With both Taillon and Archer unavailable, the Pirates are down to three starters in Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, and Jordan Lyles. The good news is that all three have pitched exceptionally well early in the season. However, the Pirates have only used five starters this season. Even if Archer returns soon, Pittsburgh will have to find reinforcements elsewhere with Taillon set to miss a month of action.
At first glance, Steven Brault and Nick Kingham would be the most likely candidates to step into the rotation. However, both have been hit hard out of the bullpen, registering ERAs of 8.31 and 6.39, respectively. Veteran Francisco Liriano has plenty of starting experience, but he’s been so pivotal in the bullpen the Pirates may be reluctant to move him. The Pirates could end up promoting top prospect Mitch Keller.
The loss of Taillon for at least a month can’t be stressed enough. The Pirates have struggled to stay afloat thus far in 2019 even with an exceptional rotation. Without arguably the most talented pitcher in that rotation for at least a month, Pittsburgh’s odds of remaining in contention inside the NL Central just got a lot longer. Unless the Pirates can start to get more contributions from other parts of the team, there may be no surviving the loss of Taillon to a mysterious elbow injury.