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Taillon, teammates talk return from cancer scare

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MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Pittsburgh Pirates
Jameson Taillon meets Steelers running back James Conner
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Jameson Taillon said that the butterflies – or “shaky legs” as he called it – he felt when he took the long walk from the bullpen to the dugout on Monday night were similar to the butterflies he felt just one year and four days earlier, when he made his Major League debut at PNC Park against Noah Syndergaard and the New York Mets.

“It’s good to get the first game out of the way,” Taillon said after his first start in 2016. “I had the whole family here. I’ve done the experience. Now I’m ready to get to work.”

One year and four days later, Taillon found himself in a similar situation. Five weeks ago, the 25-year old right-hander had a cancerous mass scraped from one of his testicles. On Monday night, Taillon was back on the pitcher’s mound in a Pirates uniform.

Taillon threw five scoreless innings against the Colorado Rockies on Monday night in his first game since the operation. After a month of being shuttled from the ballpark to the hospital for CT scans, MRIs, and blood tests, Taillon was finally able to focus less on his own mortality and more on baseball.

“That’s all I really wanted this whole time, to get into a regular routine and pitch every five days,” Taillon said. “It’s obviously important to speak out and use my platform in a powerful way, but for me, right now, just pitching every fifth day will be important.”

And really, what better platform can a cancer survivor stand on than that ten-inch-high bump in the middle of a baseball diamond? Taillon isn’t the first baseball player to be stricken with cancer. Heck, he wasn’t even the only one in the ballpark – Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis has been undergoing chemotherapy to treat testicular cancer since March. The two of them have been in close contact and are devising ways to use their resources to raise awareness for their shared affliction.

But if normalcy is what Taillon strived for, it’s what he achieved on Monday night. The Jameson Taillon that stood on the mound against the Rockies did not look dramatically different than the Jameson Taillon that was anchoring the Pirates pitching staff earlier this year. He was punching guys out, working his way out of jams, and delivering quality major league innings. All of this after just five weeks of rehab and three minor league starts.

“We would hear that he’s on the road to recovery, but you just don’t know how it’s going to go,” Jordy Mercer said. “Then you walk in one day and you see him playing catch. Then he’s going on a rehab assignment. Then boom, boom, boom, he’s back to starting again.”

Taillon said that his stuff felt crisp on Monday and that he was able to calm down after the first inning. And when he ran into a bit of trouble, putting two guys on to start the fourth, pitching coach Ray Searage was able to calm him down and Taillon moved forward.

It wasn’t until after the fifth inning, when Taillon had been pulled from the game and made his way back to the dugout, that emotions started to swirl once again. When he got back to the dugout, the entire Pirates clubhouse embraced Taillon and the righty was able to step back and enjoy the moment.

“It was a breath of fresh air,” Josh Harrison said. “He did exactly what we expected him to do because he pitches well, but it’s nice to be able to go over to him and say, ‘Welcome back.’”

Going forward, things will hopefully get easier for Taillon. As of now, the righty will not need chemotherapy but will still undergo regular blood tests to make sure that his levels are appropriate. Following that, he will still need to show up every three to six months for checkups.

Following Monday night’s start, things should be able to return to some sort of normalcy for Taillon. Hopefully, Taillon wakes up tomorrow feeling well. Hopefully, five days from now he is starting in the weekend series against the Chicago Cubs. Hopefully, this is the last we hear about Taillon’s cancer scare.

“I feel like I’ve been through a lot,” Taillon said. “Hopefully there’s not much more coming my way, but whenever there’s a runner on third with no outs, it’s not as big of a deal to me anymore.”