CHICAGO -- Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon smiled and took a deep breath when asked about pitching in front of a national television audience Sunday night against the Chicago Cubs.
The game will mark the third career start for Taillon, a highly touted 24-year-old rookie. He is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA after his first two starts, both of which came against the New York Mets.
"It's going to be an honor to pitch in front of that many people on national TV, but I think a lot of people maybe are going to be deflected watching the NBA Finals game," Taillon said with a grin. "That's what I'm telling myself to take some of the pressure off.
"I'm just going to go out there and do my thing. I love the big stage. I love the lights. I love the competition. So I'll try to control my emotions, and it shouldn't be too big for me. It shouldn't get too sped up or too emotional out there."
The Pirates (33-35) could use a boost from Taillon to regain traction in the National League Central. They have lost seven of eight contests against the first-place Cubs (46-20), whom they trail by 14 games.
Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks (4-6, 3.05 ERA) will look to continue his dominance at Wrigley Field. Hendricks is 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA in six home starts this season. He is 1-5 with a 4.36 ERA in six road starts.
A deep, powerful Cubs lineup should help Hendricks' cause. The North Siders have scored the third-most runs (354) in the majors this season, trailing only Boston (388) and St. Louis (356). The Cubs boast a 30-4 record when they score the first run of a game and are 42-3 when they finish with four or more runs.
All of that success has led some to believe the Cubs effectively could lock up the division title by midseason. But manager Joe Maddon shook his head when asked whether he hoped to increase the division lead over the Cardinals and Pirates to 15 games by a certain point on the schedule.
"It would be awesome to be able to do that, but I'm really just focused on us winning," Maddon said. "It's one of those things that if you do that, the other stuff takes care of itself. I don't look for 15 (games). I don't really think in those terms. It's about playing the Pirates."
Taillon said he felt confident despite facing an unfamiliar group of Cubs hitters.
"We don't play many Cubs affiliates coming up, but I definitely watch a lot of baseball," Taillon said. "Even when I wasn't in the big leagues, I was watching games. I've been picking some of the pitcher's brains about them, talking about the lineup, talking about some of the guys. And then of course we have a great pitching coach, brilliant catchers. They do their homework.
"So with me being the young guy, they've never seen me, I've never seen them. I'm just going to go out there and do my thing and adjust if I have to."