Resilient Taillon confident, focused forward
Pirates excited about right-hander, who battled cancer last season
PITTSBURGH -- Think about where this year took Jameson Taillon, and it might have come across as a relief to hear him talking about something as relatively minor as his changeup grip earlier this month.
Taillon's first full season in the Majors was interrupted by a diagnosis of testicular cancer, surgery and a five-week recovery before his return to the mound. After another strong month, his numbers were marred by a second-half skid. But there Taillon sat during PiratesFest at PNC Park, not congratulating himself for what he overcame or making excuses for his 4.44 ERA last season.
The 26-year-old was focused forward, talking about tweaking his changeup grip, his plan to attack hitters inside with aggressive sinkers and his confidence in Pittsburgh's young rotation.
"I think there's a belief from everybody that we have a good core and we have a good group," Taillon said. "With the young pitching, specifically, [you saw] the growth throughout the year. You spend time in the clubhouse and know we have a lot of good guys as humans that are extremely determined to get better."
That mental toughness and maturity drew the Pirates to Taillon in the first place when they started scouting him a decade ago. And with trade rumors suggesting Gerrit Cole's future may be elsewhere, those characteristics may soon land Taillon atop the Bucs' rotation.
"He's dealt with a ton of adversity. He's in a very small group of players that have dealt with cancer and fought back through that," general manager Neal Huntington said during the Winter Meetings. "His maturity, his mentality, his approach, his intelligence, his drive -- among some of the better that I've been around in my fortunate time in the game. Part of being one of those guys is being able to do that."
The other part, of course, is consistently excellent performance. Taillon delivered an impressive rookie season in 2016, posting a 3.38 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in 104 innings over 18 outings, including 12 quality starts. It was the kind of debut that, combined with his pedigree and makeup, suggested more promising seasons to come.
Taillon did not disappoint in April, recording a 2.08 ERA in 30 1/3 innings over five starts. He underwent surgery on May 8, returned in June and recorded a 1.98 ERA in his next five starts. Then came the 11-start stretch with a 7.17 ERA and a bounceback at the end: three starts and four runs in 17 innings and two wins.
So Taillon will go to work this offseason. He's already decided to switch back to a four-seam changeup grip, which he used in the past, abandoned (for a two-seam grip) for much of this season then rediscovered in his final three starts of 2017.
If he's granted a full, healthy season to fully focus on pitching, the Pirates are excited to see what Taillon can accomplish.
"The great ones are good for a long time. The elite ones are great for a long time," Huntington said. "It's awfully early to start talking about any of our guys in that category -- they need to go out and do it on a consistent basis -- but Jameson has those traits that we believe we could look up in a couple years and he could put together some really good seasons."