As Jameson Taillon delivers a win in his season debut, Cubs rely on resiliency during challenging start

CHICAGO — Eight seasons into his major league career hasn’t dissipated Chicago Cubs right-hander Jameson Taillon’s pregame butterflies ahead of his season debut.

A back injury interrupted his build-up process and sidelined him the entire spring exhibition schedule, causing him to begin on the injured list until Thursday. Taillon’s return gave the Cubs a boost.

“I think that’s a pretty healthy thing,” Taillon said of his nerves, “but I hadn’t felt that in a while.”

The pitching staff has played a big role in the Cubs being on the right side of .500 to start the season, even while battling injuries to notable players. Taillon gave his team exactly what they needed Friday, limiting the Miami Marlins to three hits and one run in five innings as the Cubs cruised to an 8-3 series-opening win at Wrigley Field. The lone damage Taillon allowed came on a Bryan De La Cruz homer in the fourth that landed in the left-center-field basket, a ball that would not have gone over the wall at any other major-league park, according to Statcast.

Taillon threw a first-pitch strike to 17 of the 18 batters he faced and did not issue a walk while striking out four. He kept the Marlins guessing by utilizing a balanced repertoire that featured six pitches generating 12 whiffs and 12 called strikes.

With Taillon back in the rotation, Ben Brown is expected to give the Cubs innings in relief sometime this weekend, likely Saturday during their doubleheader. Manager Craig Counsell didn’t want to look beyond this series as to how the pitching staff might shape up, but getting Taillon back helps the Cubs use their pitching depth to their advantage.

“Something that’s super exciting about our team is how deep it is,” Taillon said. “When our pitching staff’s right we’re going to fill up the zone, throw strikes, we’re going to play defense, our lineup’s going to give you tough at-bats one through nine. I’ve been on some really talented teams but our team, I don’t know if I’ve seen a deeper group of ballplayers. It’s a fun brand of baseball to watch.”

As the Cubs improved to 12-7 with Friday’s victory, the team’s resiliency through three weeks has left a strong impression on president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer. While it might sound odd, Hoyer said that in some ways two of his favorite games were their blown eight-run lead April 8 to the Padres and the extra-innings slugfest Tuesday in a loss against the Diamondbacks because of the way the Cubs played, and won, the next day’s game.

“That’s probably the part that is most exciting for me,” Hoyer said Friday. “The fact that we’ve been able to do that with some real setbacks and some real challenges and we lost some games that hurt (in San Diego and Phoenix) — those are games that sting and both times we bounced back the next day and played a really good game. To me that means a lot. We’re going to have more tough losses during the course of the year, that’s the nature of this sport and not having that linger.”

If the Cubs can get more consistency from key starters in the lineup, they could get on a roll. Nico Hoerner is showing signs of getting locked in, collecting 11 hits in his last nine games — including two Friday — with four doubles, one triple and four RBIs in that span. Cody Bellinger and Dansby Swanson also delivered multi-hit games against Friday, getting the Cubs on the board in the first inning by each driving in a run on a single and double, respectively, off starter A.J. Puk.

Seven players drove in a run for the Cubs to kick off the seven-game homestand.

Taillon’s return is part of the organization’s slow trek to trying to get their big-league roster fully healthy. Justin Steele (left hamstring strain) is scheduled to throw live batting practice Sunday at Wrigley before potentially beginning a rehab assignment. Seiya Suzuki (right oblique strain) is expected to miss roughly a month, though the Cubs will be cautious in bringing him back.

“You don’t wish for those situations to happen, whether it’s Steele or Jamo or Seiya or whatever it is, but unfortunately, those things are going to be a part of every season for pretty much every team and so how you respond to them is going to be huge both in the wins and losses but also seeing what you have in your depth and some opportunities in other places for guys,” Hoerner said.

Another potential injury issue popped up Friday. Left fielder Ian Happ exited with left hamstring tightness as a precaution, replaced by Alexander Canario in the top of the seventh. Happ missed a couple of weeks during spring training with a left hamstring strain. His status for the rest of the weekend is not yet determined.

“Just because guys come back doesn’t mean other things aren’t going to happen,” Hoyer said. “In some ways I always assume you have to expect that we’re gonna be using all these guys and we’ve built up some some depth in that area, and I think that’s already paid off through three weeks.”

Hoyer and the Cubs won’t know until the end of the season whether resiliency is a defining trait of this team, but the early returns are encouraging in how they have won games and put themselves in good position as May approaches.

“The ability to win series to kind of grind it out when you’re at your best, that’s been impressive so far,” Hoyer said. “What’s been important to me through these three weeks is that things have gone wrong and we haven’t played great and we’ve gotten through a really tough stretch well.

“It’s early, but I’m hoping that it’s a hallmark of this team.”