After two years away -- first due to an elbow issue that led to Tommy John surgery, then to an inguinal hernia -- Jameson Taillon is back, and in a big way. Taillon has been brilliant in the Indianapolis rotation this season in his first official action since 2013. Now that we're near the Super Two threshold, he appears to be close to earning his first callup to the big leagues. I spoke to him Monday about his road back to health and about how he feels about waiting to be promoted.
For those who haven't seen you recently, how does your pitching now differ from your pitching pre-injury?
I'm just a more mature pitcher. It's just a natural progression of getting older, going through what I went through -- I think it's helped me become a more complete pitcher.
Coming back from Tommy John, you're not pitching in a game for pretty much a whole year. Whenever you're doing that long throwing progression, all you really have is [playing] catch every day in the outfield. So I've learned how to focus and put all my energy into my practice. I feel like that really transitioned into my delivery and my mechanics. That's helped me stay sharp. My mechanics are cleaned up. I think my body's in a lot better shape. I've lost some weight. I've gotten stronger. I've gotten older. Actual pitch-wise, my fastball's probably 93-96, four-seam, two-seam, curveball, changeup. I'm more confident in my changeup than I was before injury, too.
Are there opportunities when you're injured to focus on aspects of your game that you wouldn't necessarily be able to focus on day to day, being at the ballpark?
Absolutely. We call Pirate City the Chain-Link Fence League. There are no lights. You're away from it all. You're on the back fields. Quite frankly, people don't really care what your results are -- you're not being judged off a box score. I think that's the biggest thing. Your results don't really matter when you're going through a rehab, so if you want to just work on your mechanics for two weeks, or you want to work on a changeup ... If I'm throwing against hitters [in extended Spring Training] and I want to throw 20 changeups, it's no big deal. So absolutely. You're not in the grind of a season, so you can work out differently. You're not traveling like we are now, so you can eat differently and get on a really good routine with that.
Excuse my ignorance, but when you have Tommy John, what is the process? Do you just go home for a couple months, or do you go to Pirate City?
I think everyone differs a little bit. I got it, and then I went right back to Pirate City 24 hours after. The rehab pretty much starts right away -- gripping stuff, bending your arm, learning how to move it again, getting your stitches taken out. It's actually quite a full progression. I stayed at Pirate City for pretty much the full two years. I went home every once in awhile -- you need a little break, see some familiar faces, see your parents. But it's a constant progression. There's always something to look forward to. Every week there's a new arm-care exercise, some new throws you're going to be making, or a new drill you're going to do.
What about with the hernia?
That I did go home for. After that, I was pretty let down. I pretty much realized I was out for the year after that. So they sent me home for, like, three weeks. That one's more mental -- just get away. The hernia [was] going to kind of heal on its own after I had surgery.
What was your mental state in those situations?
Tommy John, that's a big blow, just because you realize you're going to be out a whole year. That sucked. When the season starts, you miss being with the guys, you miss being in the clubhouse, you miss traveling. It becomes very monotonous.
And then the hernia -- that was a big letdown, because I thought I had a shot at contributing at the big-league level last year, and that kind of crushed my hopes of that. I worked so hard at my elbow rehab to try to make that happen, and it didn't. But you've got to take the blows and move forward.
So you'd wake up one morning, you'd remember this hernia happened -- what's the first thing that comes to your head? Sorry if this is getting weird.
Yeah, no, it's interesting to talk about, because it hasn't happened to a lot of people. There's definitely days of doubt, days of question. The hernia was at least good [in] that it was a quick-healing injury, so it didn't really stick with me that long. I was back to throwing in, like, four weeks. There's days when the elbow hurts and you're frustrated, but over time, everything goes away and you feel great. You've just got to trust it.
When you came back and pitched well at Triple-A, did that feel like a relief, or was that something you felt was going to happen?
A little bit of both. I didn't really set an exact numbers goal for this year, but I had high expectations. I think a lot of people are shocked that I'm not walking the house here, or that I'm getting people out ...
Yeah, it's been so sudden.
Yeah. I don't want to sound ignorant or cocky, but I fully expected it. I had my exit interview at Pirate City with all the Pirates' brass, and I said, "I'm never going to use [the] two years off as an excuse. It's never going to be a reason for why I'm not pitching well. It's not a cop-out." And they said, "Good, because we're not going to say that, either."
I don't know. You don't forget how to make good pitches. You don't forget what gets guys out, what works -- keeping the ball down, mixing it up, in and out. I think for me, too, my command came back a little easier than a lot of guys. I've always heard the feel, after Tommy John, is tough to get -- it's the last thing that comes. For me, the first day I played catch, the ball felt fine in my hand, and I knew where it was going. I don't know if that was luck or the work I put into it. But I've definitely been happy with that.
Do you have another start scheduled at this point?
Do you know anything about whether that's going to be your last Triple-A start?
I don't know, to be honest. They're pretty tight-lipped about it. I'm treating every start like it could be my last one. I think once you're in Triple-A, you realize you're a step away from the big leagues. I see guys go up and down all the time -- [Wilfredo] Boscan was just up. He's here today. So there's a very real feeling that, any day, you could go up, and you have to be ready to contribute. So I've been treating my last couple starts like, hey, I'm not working on anything. I want to pitch with conviction, I want to attack guys, I want to treat it like I'm pitching in a big-league game.
Are you getting much guidance at this point, the way you might in the low minors, about how many of each pitch to throw, and that kind of thing?
Not so much. Now, the game plan is, go get guys out. In the low minors, it's 80 percent fastballs or, "Hey, we want you to throw 20 changeups." Now, you should have the foundation, and go out and compete and get guys out.
So are you worried about getting better at anything in particular at this point? I'm sure there's always things, but ...
Yeah. Probably my best trait, which can also be my worst trait, is being a perfectionist. So I'm always looking to improve my mechanics, always looking to improve my diet, always looking to improve my pitch execution [and] fastball command. Like I was saying, I want to get guys out at the next level, so here, I'll get a pop out on a pitch that might run back over the middle or might be a little too elevated, that I'll feel like might not work at the next level. It's impossible to be perfect every pitch, but I'm going to sure as heck do my best to be.
Do you put much weight in box score results?
I just had a talk with our pitching coordinator the other day about it. It's a mix. The goal is to get guys out, and if you're getting guys out, you're doing something right. So the box score does matter, in a sense. And at the big-league level, it's all about getting guys out, not necessarily about how you do it, but get them out. But at the same time, you always want to get better. You want to execute pitches. You want to do your best.
How do you feel about the Super Two process?
Um ... to be honest, I don't know the exact definition of it.
But you know that it might be keeping you here at this point.
Yeah, it could. But I don't know. If that is what's keeping me here, I understand it. And at the same time, there were some very real things I had to work on this year. From the Pirates' point of view, they hadn't seen me pitch under the lights in two years. I understand they probably wanted to see me do it over a continued stretch. I believed in myself. But I understand it. It's not like I expected to break camp with the team out of Spring Training. That's unrealistic. As far as the Super Two rule goes, I'd hate for that to be a reason to keep someone down if they're 100 percent ready, but I felt like I actually had something to work on, so that kind of cancels it out for me.