Bucs' revamped rotation rounding into form

Taillon's scoreless outing completes full turn through new-look set of starters

Bucs' revamped rotation rounding into form

PITTSBURGH -- Over the past month, the Pirates tore down their Opening Day rotation piece by piece. Over the past week, they've constructed a new rotation in its place -- and the early results have been encouraging.

Jameson Taillon's dominant, scoreless eight-inning outing in the Pirates' 4-0 win over the Padres on Thursday at PNC Park completed one turn through Pittsburgh's revamped, right-handed rotation: Ivan Nova, Gerrit Cole, Chad Kuhl, Ryan Vogelsong and Taillon, the remarkably consistent and efficient rookie.

"I just want to keep seeing them pitch," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It has a good look to it. Now, it's got to go out and pitch."

The plan came into focus at the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but it fell into place a week ago in Atlanta. Vogelsong came off the 60-day disabled list and threw six strong innings. Then came Taillon and Nova, the Deadline acquisition and replacement for Opening Day starter Francisco Liriano.

Nova's strong debut with Pirates

Up next were Cole and Kuhl, recalled and given a chance to stick in the rotation. Then another turn for Vogelsong and Taillon, who has lived up to the hype in his first 10 starts and benefited from a regular routine in the Majors.

During that seven-game stretch, the Pirates' rotation posted a 2.22 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 12 walks. The unit that previously couldn't pitch deep into games with any consistency averaged more than six innings per start.

"I think they all have skill sets to be consistent and be productive and give us more innings out of the rotation than we've got in the past," Hurdle said.

The Pirates rank 20th in the Majors with a 4.60 starters' ERA, the main reason they're only two games above .500 and on the edge of the Wild Card picture. Looking to push into their fourth straight postseason, the Bucs needed to shake things up.

First, they moved four starters with ERAs over 5.00: Juan Nicasio (5.05), Jonathon Niese (5.13), Liriano (5.46) and Jeff Locke (5.86).

The Pirates began deconstructing their Opening Day rotation in mid-June, when they sent Nicasio to the bullpen, and cleared another spot by making Niese a reliever in mid-July. The process reached a breaking point on Aug. 1, when Liriano was traded to Toronto and Niese was sent out for good.

Pittsburgh then pulled the plug on Locke, trading reliever Arquimedes Caminero to Seattle on Saturday to make room for Locke in the bullpen.

In came Nova, a rental right-hander with the potential to bounce back in the National League Central, and Kuhl, the ground-ball-heavy rookie who's fared well in the Majors without his best stuff. And back came Vogelsong, a well-respected veteran who arguably should have cracked the rotation out of Spring Training.

"We talk about every day what he brings to a club. He wants to play some baseball," third baseman David Freese said. "It's awesome when you see it. He loves this game.

"As far as solidifying the staff, we're going to take these guys, and hopefully we can go to work."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.