One of the most well-pitched series a fan could hope for drew to a close at Pilot Field Wednesday afternoon. And with Dorn Taylor going for Buffalo, who could have expected anything less than another show of mound excellence?
Yet starting about the fourth inning, one got the idea Taylor was in over his head. Yes, Taylor entered 6-0 at Pilot
Bisons notebook / C3
Field with a 0.52 earned run average. Granted, he was 18-5 there lifetime with a 1.36 ERA. But on this day, he was overmatched.
That's how dominating Nashville left-hander Chris Hammond was in a 3-0 shutout of the Herd before a paid crowd of 12,751.
The outcome was determined the moment Billy Bates scored Nashville's first run in the fourth on Terry Lee's single. Hammond needed no more, although he got two more when Lee scored in the seventh on a Keith Lockhart single and homered in the ninth. He allowed only two base runners the remainder of the way, and neither reached scoring position.
Employing a dastardly mix of fastball, change-up and curveball, Hammond struck out at least one Bison in every inning except the fourth. He fanned two in the first, third and ninth innings, finishing with 11 and raising his season total to 87, tops in the American Association. Buffalo's three hits were singles, two coming with two out.
"He could have won in the big leagues today," said Nashville manager Pete Mackanin. "Against anybody."
Maybe so. Hammond escaped a first-inning jam by fanning Tommy Shields on three pitches. Fastball, curveball, change-up, see ya. When a pitcher shows it all that early and that convincingly, spare the pine tar.
Back-to-back walks in the third established another Bisons threat. Moises Alou led in the count, two balls and one strike. Fastball? Nope, curveball for strike two. Another curveball and Alou was gone, with Orlando Merced soon to follow.
This couldn't be the same Hammond who lasted 1 2/3 innings against the Herd in Nashville May 12. This looked more like the pitcher Baseball America rates as the No. 9 prospect in the Cincinnati system.
"They hit me pretty good last time," Hammond said. "I don't think I had a change-up or curveball that night, just a fastball."
But in the rematch he had it all.
"He was in total command of his change-up and curveball," Mackanin said. "He has a devastating change-up. It's nasty, and hitters can't lay off."
Mackanin reminded Hammond of that fact during a third-inning mound visit following the back-to-back walks.
"I told him, 'Don't try to be too fine. Throw it down the middle if you have to. Let the change-up get people out. They can't hit that pitch.' No belittling their hitters -- no one can hit that pitch."
The change-up is a familiar topic around Pilot Field, particularly when Taylor draws the nod. Taylor throws three varieties of off-speed stuff and, in the minds of the Pittsburgh Pirates' brass, he throws them too often.
An aversion to the fastball has kept Taylor in Buffalo while other Herd pitchers received promotions. Mark Ross went to Pittsburgh Wednesday when starter Bob Walk (pulled groin) was placed on the disabled list.
So Taylor (9-3) decided if it's fastballs they want, it's fastballs they'll get. He used the pitch 65 percent of the time -- as opposed to 65 percent change-ups -- and produced favorable results.
"I threw the fastball more today," Taylor said. "If that's what they say I have to do, fine."
But he's doing so grudgingly, as one might expect of a 31-year-old pitcher with a high success rate at the Triple A level.
"I'd like someone to throw me in a (big league) rotation and say, 'It's your job to lose,' " Taylor said. "Let me pitch the way I know how, then see if I'm throwing too many change-ups. I'm going to throw it until they prove they can hit it. They said the same thing about Dave Johnson (with Baltimore). They said he couldn't pitch in the big leagues."
Still, Taylor picked a good day to experiment with the increased use of his fastball. Because even the old Dorn Taylor, shifting gears with the smoothness of Mario Andretti, faced an unavoidable roadblock in Chris Hammond.