Taillon 'confident he'll be OK' after second TJ

September 19th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- Jameson Taillon went in for surgery last month expecting to have his right elbow flexor tendon repaired, but fearing he might need his second Tommy John surgery. When he woke up, still medicated after the operation, he could feel it -- not in his elbow or somewhere deeper in the back of his mind, but in his leg.

Taillon doesn’t have a palmaris longus tendon in his wrist, so he knew from his first Tommy John experience that, if he needed another ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, they’d have to take the tendon graft from his left leg. Nobody had to tell him that was exactly what Dr. David Altchek had done.

“I felt my left leg in pain, and I just knew,” Taillon said Thursday, speaking to reporters for the first time about his Aug. 13. surgery. “I went back to sleep, and I knew right then and there that that’s what it was.”

Taillon went under hoping he’d be back on the mound relatively early next season. He woke up knowing he wouldn’t pitch in the Majors until 2021, fully aware that there have been only a handful of success stories that include two Tommy John surgeries.

He faced the news like he’s faced every other challenge in his career, from the first UCL repair in April 2014 to a hernia that likely set back his Major League debut to the testicular cancer diagnosis two years ago.

“I was disappointed. But you have to buy into it. You have to buy back into the rehab,” Taillon said. “It sounds weird, but I found a way to get better from my first one. I’m seriously confident I’m going to find a way to get better from this one. Whether it’s mechanics, how can I take stress off my elbow, how can I get stronger, how can I age better, how can I dive into analytics and video.

“I’m genuinely confident that I’ll be OK.”

It’s hard to imagine someone like Taillon reaching this point as an optimist, but he is clinging to the good news. In the weeks after his first surgery, he was constantly sore and struggling with swollen fingers. He was almost scared to shed his post-surgical brace. On Thursday morning, he stood in the Pirates clubhouse drinking coffee with no brace and few complaints.

“I’ve been joking with people that I’m not sure they did anything in there,” Taillon said, laughing. “I feel fine. We’ll see. Obviously it’s going to be a tough rehab, but right now, I’m feeling pretty good.”

Taillon will officially ditch his elbow brace on Friday before beginning a physical therapy program. He’ll spend the offseason at home in Houston, report to Spring Training and spend most of next year at the Pirate City complex in Bradenton, Fla., with occasional visits to be around his teammates.

Even if everything goes well, he’ll return to a Major League mound roughly 23 months after his last pitch against the Rangers on May 1. In the meantime, he’ll stay busy.

He’s already looked into hiring a chef to help him eat clean. He’s doing cardiovascular exercises to stay in shape. He’s done some biomechanical analysis of his delivery, searching for weaknesses that might have led to his injury, and he’s researched drills he can implement into his routine.

“It’s a good thing I’m decently patient when it comes to this kind of stuff,” Taillon said. “You’ve just got to be really, really patient.”

Still, the injury came at a particularly unfortunate time for Taillon and the Pirates.

Taillon will enter the salary arbitration process this offseason. He’ll receive a raise from the league minimum salary based on his service time and performance from 2016-18, but he won’t be able to boost his earnings heading into '21. When he returns to the mound, he’ll be 29 years old in a game that’s increasingly wary of veteran starting pitchers.

“I lost myself a lot, a lot, a lot of money. But it just doesn’t matter. I just care about getting healthy,” Taillon said. “It hurts not being able to play catch with [Mitch] Keller and have him watch my bullpens and stuff. But it’s all right. I think I have seven or eight more years left [in my career], so I’ll have plenty of time to come out on the back end of this and do what I want to get done.”

Meanwhile, the Pirates must spend the better part of two seasons without their best starting pitcher. His absence has been noticeable on the mound, and there’s also been a void of leadership in the clubhouse without Taillon, the team’s MLB Players Association representative and one of the longer-tenured players in the organization.

“After everything that’s happened, it’s become clear to me that I need to stay involved and I need to have these conversations,” Taillon said. “Player communication, talking with different coaches and front office people about what I can do to stay involved when I’m hurt, how I can stay engaged, what do we need to do in here to set standards and make our expectations extremely clear. This has all been kind of a wake-up call for me that, even though I’m hurt, I can be a part of this.”