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Pirates notebook: Pitching prospect Taillon makes steady progress

Tribune-Review
| Friday, March 6, 2015 9:18 p.m
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
In this file photo, Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon underhands a ball during squeeze-play drills Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
PTRBucsnote01030715
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon throws in the bullpen at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

TAMPA, Fla. — Pirates pitching prospect Jameson Taillon is scheduled to face live batters next week for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery last April.

The former No. 2 overall pick was scheduled to throw 30 pitches in a bullpen session Friday. Assuming his next side session goes well Tuesday, Taillon will throw his first live batting practice next Friday.

“I’m feeling really strong, throwing the ball cleaner than I ever have,” Taillon said. “Everything has been feeling really good. The elbow has been responding really well.”

Assuming those throwing sessions go well, Taillon, Baseball America’s No. 29 overall prospect, said he will throw three or four more live batting practice sessions, then appear in simulated games later in March. Taillon expects his first live game action to come in extended spring training.

Had Taillon not ruptured the ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm last spring, he likely would have made his debut with the Pirates last summer. The timetable has been pushed back, but Taillon potentially could help the big league club this season.

While the Pirates prefer to pursue a conservative development path with prized arms such as Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham, pitching depth is one question mark hovering over the club this spring, and depth option Brandon Cumpton (elbow) already has visited with Dr. James Andrews. Taillon advanced to Triple-A to close the 2013 season, making six starts for Indianapolis.

“I feel great, but I don’t think they’ll speed me up,” Taillon said. “I’m pretty on board. I’m not going to rush anything.”

Taillon is encouraged by his progress. He’s throwing all his pitches and is surprised by how sharp his curveball, his strikeout pitch, has been after a year layoff.

“Mentally it’s not even a thought anymore,” Taillon said of his elbow. “I’m pretty restriction-free. I’m just going out there and letting it fly.”

Will reliever Holdzkom diversify portfolio?

What was nearly as remarkable as John Holdzkom’s rise from Independent League ball to helping an embattled Pirates’ bullpen last season was how he did it: With one pitch.

Last season, 94 percent of Holdzkom’s pitches were four-seam fastballs. The other 6 percent of his offerings were palm balls. When you’re 6-foot-9 and have a fastball averaging 96.7 mph maybe you only need one pitch. With that one pitch, Holdzkom held major league hitters to four hits and one run in nine innings while striking out 14 last season.

Holdzkom said adding another offering is not a priority this spring.

“I’m just going to ride out the heater and see what happens. That’s all I’ve got right now,” Holdzkom said. “If it’s located well, I can probably have some pretty good results.”

Holdzkom said he experimented with a slider in the past, but it was so inconsistent he just “scrapped it.” He learned the palm ball grip when he was 13, and it is the only offspeed pitch he has ever thrown.

Left-on-left

Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke said one goal of this spring is to be more creative in facing left-handed hitters. Locke faced five lefties in the Yankees starting lineup Friday. He got Jacoby Ellsbury swinging on a fastball for one of his two strikeouts.

“I’ve wanted to get more comfortable facing lefties in spring training,” Locke said. “So many people are so conventional, with left-on-left changeups (etc.) … You have to be a little unconventional sometimes. You have to find out what works for you.

“If your changeup is good, it doesn’t matter who is in the box.”

Locke said he has not thought much about his battle with Vance Worley for the final spot in the rotation.

Pepper games

Hurdle said Sean Rodriguez is fine and was scratched because of his heavy activity Thursday when he made 14 defensive plays. … Charlie Morton (hip) responded well Friday a day after making his first appearance of the spring. “He said he felt good,” Hurdle said. … Francisco Cervelli, acquired from the Yankees for Justin Wilson in the offseason, turned 29 on Friday. … Alex Rodriguez was in the Yankees lineup at DH.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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