PITTSBURGH -- Jameson Taillon walked off the mound on Thursday night with two runners on base and only one out in the seventh inning. Manager Clint Hurdle took the ball from Taillon and waited for left-hander Tony Watson. As Taillon headed toward the dugout, the crowd of 22,595 at PNC
PITTSBURGH -- Jameson Taillon walked off the mound on Thursday night with two runners on base and only one out in the seventh inning. Manager Clint Hurdle took the ball from Taillon and waited for left-hander Tony Watson. As Taillon headed toward the dugout, the crowd of 22,595 at PNC Park stood and cheered in unison.
In four starts since undergoing surgery for testicular cancer, Taillon has been better than he was earlier this season. He has posted a 2.42 ERA, completing six innings the last two times out. Taillon fired 6 1/3 frames against the Rays, leading the Pirates to a 4-0 win. It felt like he was finally back.
"It's nice to be a part of it. The time away was tough, when you're sitting there watching guys play and I'm not able to contribute," Taillon said. "I wanted a chance to come back, and I wanted a chance to pitch for something. Here I am."
It was a characteristically gritty outing for Taillon. He only had one clean inning, the fifth, and otherwise had to pitch through traffic. But Taillon has proven to be adept at doing so, even citing a recently discovered quote from Hall of Famer Greg Maddux about the topic.
"All he tried to do in the windup was keep the ball in the park, then his biggest pitches came out of the stretch," Taillon said. "I don't know if I'm necessarily pitching with that mindset, but the biggest pitches always come out of the stretch."
Taillon needed 51 pitches to get through the first three innings but settled down after that, throwing no more than 12 pitches in each of his next three frames. He allowed a leadoff double to catcher Jesus Sucre then walked pinch-hitter Mallex Smith in the seventh. After a mound visit by pitching coach Ray Searage, Steven Souza Jr. scalded a 111.8-mph line drive directly at left fielder John Jaso.
"That was enough," Hurdle said. "We had Watson ready, and Tony came in and pitched really hard. … I was really happy for that effort."
While any pitcher would have preferred to work through the seventh, Taillon was pleased with how he felt after throwing 103 pitches. He still felt strong. Tallon had to rebuild his endurance after missing more than a month following the cancer diagnosis, surgery and recovery, and he was limited to five innings in each of his first two starts upon his return.
"I feel like I'm back to where I need to be. I feel strong," Taillon said. "I'm in good shape. My arm's in good shape."
The Pirates had to manipulate Taillon's schedule last season to make him available late in the year. He had starts cut short or skipped entirely, and he went to the disabled list in early July, in part, as a way to limit his workload. He wound up pitching 165 2/3 innings over 28 starts between the Minors and Majors.
This year, Taillon's first full season in the big leagues, the Pirates may not have to worry about breaks or breathers. The fortunate side effect of Taillon's time down is that, with good health, he should be able to pitch the rest of the season without restrictions.
And Taillon figures to be a key part of the Pirates' rotation, joining Gerrit Cole and Ivan Nova atop the staff as Pittsburgh looks to stay afloat in a surprisingly winnable National League Central. This is what Taillon wanted, after all.
"I feel like I'm back with the team, I'm contributing and we're playing for something," he said.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.