Pirates' pair of top guns


DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t win a spring training game Friday. But they got to do something way more enjoyable: They got to take a trip into their future, the very near future.

There’s a Parade of Aces in their future, you see. And the Pirates fired up a fun-filled sneak preview of that parade Friday.

They ran their favorite October phenom, Gerrit Cole, out there to pitch the first two innings of a 4-2 loss to Toronto. Then they followed up that show by having their next phenom in line, Jameson Taillon, work the third and fourth innings.

"Those two guys," smiled their manager, Clint Hurdle, afterward. "One (Cole) has gotten to the major leagues, and one (Taillon) is closing in on that opportunity. They have the skill sets, the mound presence, and all the things you need to have two stalwarts in your rotation."

In 2010, the Pirates made Taillon the second player picked in the entire draft (after some guy named Bryce Harper). In 2011, they chose Cole with the first pick in the country. So they came off the ace-factory assembly line at a young age. And they haven’t disappointed.

Cole, a more advanced pick out of UCLA, reached the big leagues last June, got better and better, and was ridiculously dominating down the stretch, running up a 1.70 ERA over his last six starts (counting the postseason), with nearly twice as many strikeouts (44) as hits (24).

He wasn’t That Guy on Friday, in his first start of the spring. But after some first-inning mechanical issues, he dialed it in when he got out there for his second inning, and punched out two of the three hitters he faced.

Then it was Taillon’s turn. He breezed through his two innings so easily (giving up only one check-swing infield single), he barely needed a shower. And afterward, one scout in attendance actually said: "I like him better than Cole. He’s legit."

Taillon’s minor-league numbers (16-21, 3.72 ERA, 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings) might be disappointing to people who look more closely at stat sheets than stuff. But the Pirates’ game plan, if all goes well, is for Taillon to follow a similar track to the one Cole followed last season -- and make an impact in Pittsburgh at some point this summer.

What was just as much fun as watching them pitch back-to-back Friday was that they got to watch each other do their thing -- and got to weigh in on each other later, at the invitation of the always-helpful media in attendance.

When Cole was asked if he had any advice for Taillon, who is living with him this spring, he replied: "He’s just got to take it day by day and just try to get better, and not worry about the distractions, like the media telling him he’s coming up in June, or ‘Have you learned anything from Gerrit?’ every day."

Cole also said he spends less time talking about pitching with Taillon than you’d probably guess.

"Other than the fact that we both throw hard, we’re just really different," Cole said. "I think it’s pretty easy to see. There’s some staples -- getting the ball down, throwing the ball with angle. He’s got a much better curve ball than I do, and he’s thrown it for much longer. Approach-wise, we can feed off each other in terms of how different hitters react to different types of velocity and with the breaking ball as well. Mechanically, we’re too different. It’s just kind of, ‘Stay down in the zone, move the ball around.’ "

Meanwhile, when Taillon was asked his favorite thing about watching Cole pitch, he didn’t need an hour to reflect on it.

"I’d probably say his delivery," the 6-foot-6 right-hander said. "It’s slow to blow (i.e., sneaky fast). It’s easy. Throws cheese. Great stuff. And my other favorite thing, I guess, is how he just goes right at guys. You see a lot of power pitchers who try to paint the corners. ... But he just goes right at you. He’s going to go at you with his best stuff. It’s his strength on your strength."

Taillon said he vividly remembers watching Cole’s epic Game 2 start in the NLDS in St. Louis last October from the Arizona Fall League. That was a game in which Cole gave up only two hits in six innings and topped 100 miles per hour four times.

Asked what he recalled from that game, Taillon chuckled: "Just freaking 98 miles an hour at the knees, down and away. Just hammering them down and away that game. That was awesome."

They’re two of the game’s brightest lights. They’re scripted to spend at least the next six seasons tag-teaming it. And their mutual admiration society extends well beyond the mound.

Asked whether Cole had ascended to president of his fan club, Taillon laughed and said: "I’d probably put my dad as the president. But he’d be on the board for sure. And I hope I’d be on the board (of his fan club) for sure, too. I’d be in the cabinet. I’ve been watching that show, ‘House of Cards.’ So I’ve got some political references."

Well, if that’s where this conversation is heading, on Friday, he also won the Florida primary. But the real campaigning is just over his horizon. And the Pirates can’t wait till these votes are counted.