Jameson Taillon struggles in Cubs debut, Brewers take opening series

His lack of pinpoint control forced manager David Ross to pull him after only four innings. The Brewers followed with a blend of patience and well-placed hits in a five-run sixth.

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Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs

Jameson Taillon threw only 37 of 63 pitches for strikes Sunday.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Three games into a 162-game season prompted the search for some assessments, and Jameson Taillon provided an awkward forecast into the Cubs’ season.

“When we’re in the strike zone, we’re going to be pretty good,” Taillon said. “We got a lot of good arms, and lot of different looks we can show.”

Unfortunately for Taillon and the Cubs, their lack of sharpness proved to be a major flaw in two setbacks, most recently a 9-5 loss Sunday to the Brewers at Wrigley Field.

Although Taillon was responsible for only one of the 10 walks issued by Cubs pitchers in the last two games, his lack of pinpoint control forced manager David Ross to pull him after only four innings. Then the Brewers exploited reliever Julian Merryweather with a blend of patience and well-placed hits during a five-run sixth.

“That’s one of my staples — if we’re going to get beat, let’s get beat in the [strike] zone,” Ross said. “Let’s not beat ourselves. I don’t think that’s going to be our calling card.

“A lot of that is guys touching the bump for the first time. Maybe some of the adrenaline early on, maybe the cold weather, some things like that. I don’t think that’s how we’re built. But definitely we got to stay away from free passes.”

A large part of the Cubs’ optimism stems from major upgrades in their defense. Shortstop Dansby Swanson turned tough grounders into routine outs, and center fielder Cody Bellinger tracked down several drives that appeared headed to the alleys for extra bases.

But two walks issued by Merryweather led to a two-run single by Jesse Winker to spark the five-run rally.

Taillon, 31, who signed a four-year, $68 million contract last winter, threw only 37 of 63 pitches for strikes in his Cubs debut but didn’t sense that major changes were necessary for his next scheduled start Saturday against the Rangers at Wrigley Field.

“There’s definitely some extra adrenaline,” Taillon said. “But at that stage of my career, I guess I would have hoped that I’ve learned how to deal with that, make the adjustments on the fly and find a way to go six or seven.”

Left-handed hitters Christian Yelich, Winker, Garrett Mitchell, Victor Caratini and Brice Turang had at least one hit off Taillon, who felt he merely needed to drive his arm through instead of flying his hand open.

The Cubs are counting on veteran starters Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly and Taillon to help elevate them to National League Central title contention.

Smyly, like Stroman and Taillon, has pitched in multiple organizations and appreciates the chance to pitch for a team that envisions playoff berths in the future instead of rebuilding programs.

Despite bouts of injuries, the Cubs thought enough of Smyly, 33, to sign him to a two-year, $19 million contract to help stabilize the rotation. Smyly will get a chance to stop the Cubs’ two-game skid Monday night at Cincinnati.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what your contract is,” said Smyly, who made 22 starts last season. “If you don’t perform well, you won’t be playing for long. But it’s good having healthy competition, and guys eager to come up and help the team is good for everybody.”

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