Jameson Taillon
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Pirates name Jameson Taillon Opening Day starter

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The Pirates have appointed right-hander Jameson Taillon their Opening Day starter for 2019, per a team announcement on Saturday. It’s the first such appointment for the 27-year-old Taillon, who will take the mound when the Pirates open the season on the road against the Reds on March 28.

“It’s a big honor,” Taillon told reporters. “I get to kick off the season for the boys, set the tone. Obviously I care about the body of work and stuff, but it is a big honor to get the ball Opening Day. Growing up a fan of baseball, there was a certain stigma around Opening Day starter[s]. I would always look forward to when teams would announce it.”

The decision to go with Taillon comes as a no-brainer after his career year in 2018. According to FanGraphs, the righty was the most valuable starter in the Pirates’ rotation after going 14-10 in 32 starts with a 3.20 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.4 SO/9, and 3.7 fWAR across 191 innings.

He’ll head the rotation again in 2019 with a combination of right-handers Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove, and Chris Archer behind him. The fifth spot is still up for grabs, but may be nabbed by any one of Jordan Lyles, Nick Kingham, or Steven Brault depending on how things shake out in spring training. Archer, 30, will get the nod for the club’s first home game against the Cardinals on April 1, while Williams and Musgrove are currently slated to fill in the starts between the two openers.

Blue Jays release John Axford

John Axford
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The Blue Jays have released right-handed reliever John Axford from his minor league contract, per an announcement on Saturday. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi speculates that the move could provide an avenue for the club to rework Axford’s contract, but the Blue Jays have yet to confirm or deny the report.

Axford, 35, was dealt a blow on Thursday after getting diagnosed with a stress reaction in the olecranon bone of his right elbow. Elbow soreness dogged the right-hander through much of his time in camp, and although he was scheduled for a follow-up examination later this spring, a definite return date had not been established.

Prior to the diagnosis, Axford was tabbed for a setup role with the team in 2019. He pitched to mixed results in 2018 (thanks in part to a late-season fracture of his right fibula) with a 5.27 ERA, 4.9 BB/9, and 9.8 SO/9 through 54 2/3 innings with the Blue Jays and Dodgers. Now, however, it’s not certain that he’ll return to the mound this season in any capacity.

Axford isn’t the only reliever the Blue Jays have lost to injury lately, either, as right-handers Ryan Tepera and Bud Norris have been sidelined with right elbow inflammation and forearm fatigue, respectively. Per Davidi, the Blue Jays offered Norris a $100,000 retention bonus to prevent him from opting out of the minor league contract he signed in February.