707 days later, Taillon impresses in return

April 8th, 2021

NEW YORK -- There were fist bumps and glove taps all around in the fifth inning Wednesday, ’s teammates circling the mound to mark the occasion. Seven hundred and seven days after his most recent appearance in a big league game, the right-hander provided his new team with plenty to dream upon.

Making his return from a second reconstructive elbow procedure, Taillon struck out seven without a walk over 4 2/3 innings, grinning widely as he exchanged high-fives with buddy Gerrit Cole in the dugout. Though Chance Sisco’s pinch-hit, 11th-inning single off Chad Green proved to be the difference in a Yankees’ 4-3 loss to the Orioles, the night meant more to Taillon.

“I’m extremely grateful,” Taillon said. “That game ran a little long and I had plenty of time to get my thoughts. It’s going to sound cheesy, but I’ll never take a day in a big league uniform for granted, that’s for sure. I was super happy to be out there; it felt really good to compete.”

The 29-year-old Taillon retired the first nine batters that he faced before surrendering solo fourth-inning homers to Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander. Taillon was upset with himself for the homers, but they were the only blemishes of his first outing since May 1, 2019, for the Pirates.

“It’s amazing that he looked so comfortable out there,” catcher Gary Sánchez said through an interpreter. “It didn’t seem to be that it had been such a long time since the last time he pitched. He’s going to be good for us. He looks sharp and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to help us a lot this year.”

Acquired in a January trade with Pittsburgh, Taillon averaged 93.3 mph with his fastball in the 74-pitch effort, also showcasing his slider and curveball. Taillon has revamped his mechanics in hopes of taking stress off his pitching elbow. He has also scrapped a two-seamer in favor of throwing fastballs high in the strike zone, much like Cole did after leaving the Pirates.

“A lot has changed for me,” Taillon said. “I’m getting some swings and misses on 93 and 94 [mph] now. When I threw 96, 97 mph sinkers, I’d get squared up. I’m definitely going to be learning and adjusting to my new pitch mix and to the new division. It’s a different way of pitching, but I still have that same mindset.”

The start was Taillon’s first career appearance at Yankee Stadium, and he said that he anticipated there would be nerves in returning to the mound, working with a small cheering section of family and friends on hand. Taillon expressed gratitude for a second chance, following a dark period late in his Pittsburgh tenure during which he wondered if there would be another opportunity.

“I’m really grateful to have a second chance at this,” Taillon said. “I’m really grateful that my elbow feels good. I wasn’t so sure a couple of years ago that I would ever be on this stage again.”

Close and late

Held to Aaron Hicks’ third-inning RBI single through the first seven frames, the Yanks tied the game in the eighth. Left fielder Ryan Mountcastle misplayed Sánchez’s two-out single, and Gio Urshela followed with a double to left-center field that knocked pinch-runner Mike Tauchman in from first base.

Kyle Higashioka evened the game again in the home half, lacing a two-out single to right field that scored pinch-runner Tyler Wade from second base. Facing Paul Fry in the 11th, DJ LeMahieu lifted a one-out drive to right field. Urshela tagged from third base but was thrown out at the plate on a strong throw from Santander.

“I hit it pretty hard,” LeMahieu said. “The outfielder had a little time to set his feet and make a good throw. I think [Urshela] has got to go in that situation. It just didn’t work out; they made the play.”

Urshela’s knock was the type that the Yankees could have used more of. They outhit Baltimore 13-4 in the contest but finished 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position, leaving 12 men on.

“It was a frustrating one offensively, for sure,” LeMahieu said. “We had some chances. We just couldn’t get that big hit tonight.”

Extra frames

Green appeared to be out of the 10th inning, inducing a Pedro Severino grounder, but shortstop Gleyber Torres bounced a throw past first baseman Jay Bruce that allowed the go-ahead run to score.

“It made a really tough hop over there for Jay,” manager Aaron Boone said. “You’ve got to be more on target in that spot.”