Jameson Taillon is searching for answers.
The right-hander’s Chicago Cubs career continues to get off to a rocky start. This time Citizens Bank Park served as the backdrop for Taillon’s struggles. One inning doomed Taillon, a common theme in his four starts since returning from the injured list.
A six-run first inning by the Philadelphia Phillies put the Cubs in a hole they couldn’t recover from in a 12-3 loss Saturday. Kyle Schwarber’s grand slam on a hanging curveball represented the first blow. Taillon surrendered eight runs (six earned) in 2⅓ innings.
Through seven starts, Taillon, who signed a four-year, $68 million contract in December, owns an 8.10 ERA. Taillon said he physically feels great with no lingering issues from his groin strain. Reoccurring struggles to put away hitters and inconsistent command keep putting Taillon in a bad spot.
“I have to clean it up,” Taillon said. “I feel like the stuff’s there, just comes down to making the right pitch to the right area. And right now, it feels like I’m either missing too far off the plate or too far over the middle of the plate, not finding that sweet spot there on the corners. When I need to do it, definitely not getting enough swing and miss and definitely not finishing guys, too many two-strike counts.”
On the other side, Phillies ace Aaron Nola put on a clinic pounding the zone. The Cubs struck out 10 times and managed just two runs on a Dansby Swanson home run. They put only two runners on through five innings. The offense’s inability to get going against Nola doesn’t matter much when Taillon can’t get through three innings.
Taillon has pitched past the third once in four starts since the IL stint, which came in his last start at Houston (4⅔ innings). Taillon believes his four-seam fastball isn’t as good as past seasons and that he isn’t using the pitch effectively. Too often his fastball is an uncompetitive pitch.
“I really think it’s simple, it just comes down to the fact that I’m not executing right now,” Taillon said. “It’s crappy, especially being on a new team and a new place. You want to prove that I deserve to be here and I’m a good player, and so far I haven’t had the opportunity to show that so that’s a pretty crappy feeling.
“Obviously, when you’re pitching, you’re out there by yourself so it’s not fun. But you have no choice but to punch back and pick yourself up and find a way to punch back.”
As Kyle Hendricks nears his season debut, the Cubs (20-25) can’t afford to have their bullpen taxed every time Taillon takes the mound. The Cubs wanted Hendricks to be sufficiently built up before activating him from the IL. In his rehab start Saturday night for Triple-A Iowa, Hendricks built up to 82 pitches while allowing one run in six innings. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy wanted to see Hendricks repeat a heavier workload over multiple outings.
Hendricks’ pitch count positions him to make his season debut during the Cubs’ upcoming homestand. Javier Assad is eligible to be recalled Saturday if the Cubs want another long relief option in the bullpen to support Hendricks or Taillon.
“The last thing you want to do is have a guy come up, he’s not fully stretched out and going to ask a lot of our bullpen to cover behind him,” Hottovy said Friday. “Hopefully everything goes well (Saturday) and he’s recovering well and everything feels good after that and we can be talking about bringing him back after that.”
Catcher Yan Gomes, who has been behind the plate for Taillon’s last two starts, said they need to take a couple of steps backward and figure out the root of the issue. Taillon’s career track record gives the Cubs a reason to believe he will return it around.
“We know that he’s willing to put in the work and willing to make some adjustments if we need to,” Gomes said. “If not, maybe we work a little bit of a different game plan or something like that. So at the same time, we are going to go back and just look at some stuff and make some adjustments to go forward.”