Bucs' Taillon 'felt crisp' in return to mound
Jameson Taillon could breathe a sigh of relief Wednesday night. After two years of rehabbing, he made it back to the bright lights and pitched six solid innings.
"Getting out there and pitching in my first game in a long time, in a competitive environment against a solid team. It was definitely a big weight off my shoulders," he said.
In his first start since 2013, the Pirates' No. 4 prospect gave up a run on five hits and struck out six without issuing a walk as Triple-A Indianapolis topped Toledo, 4-2, at Fifth Third Field.
"It's been a while," Taillon told reporters. "I felt good, I felt pretty crisp. I was stoked to be out there competing. We lost [Tuesday] night, so it was good to split the series and get a win."
The second overall pick in the 2011 Draft posted a 3.73 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 25 starts across Double-A and Triple-A in 2013. The following year, Taillon (1-0) was on the cusp of reaching the Majors after three strong seasons. That April, however, the Texas native underwent Tommy John surgery. While rehabbing in July 2015, MLB.com's No. 52 overall prospect suffered an inguinal hernia that required surgery.
While it meant a second straight season away from the diamond, it was not time wasted.
"During those two years, I was learning a lot about myself, about my mechanics, pitching-wise, I went through a strength routine, developing a routine in the training room to hopefully prevent injury down the line," he told MiLB.com in January. "I worked on mainly mechanical stuff and I think it's something I can take with me through the rest of my career. If I were playing for those two years, I don't think I would have been able to accomplish exactly what I did."
Pitching in a Minor League game for the first time since Sept. 1, 2013, Taillon had his "crisp" fastball reach 94 mph on stadium radar guns. The 24-year-old right-hander threw 58 of 85 pitches for strikes.
"I had a good curveball working tonight. It definitely felt good coming out of my hand. I could kind of feel the shape of it in the spin and I could throw it for a strike or throw it for a chase," he said. "Normally, I'm happy if I have one of those -- a strike curveball or a chase curveball -- and tonight I had both. Those definitely make for the better nights."
Taillon's only trouble came at the beginning and end of his night. In the bottom of the first, he allowed a one-out triple to Tigers' No. 12 prospect Dixon Machado and an RBI double to Major League veteran Nate Schierholtz before retiring nine straight batters.
After two quick outs in the sixth, Machado and Schierholtz singled, but Taillon got Casey McGehee to line to center fielder Antoan Richardson to end the inning.
"Those are the innings right there that can make or break you in a start -- runners on, runners in scoring position. That's when you really have to bear down and make your pitches," he said. "So there in the sixth, I pretty much knew that was my last batter, I knew that was my last inning, so I wanted to get out of there clean. And Antoan did do a good job."
Taillon also said he was pleased with how catcher Ed Easley worked with him, considering they'd never played together in a game.
Jorge Rondon gave up a run on one hit over two innings and Trey Haley pitched around a hit in the ninth for his first save of the season.
Jason Rogers supported Taillon with three RBIs, while Adam Frazier was 3-for-5 with a double and a run scored for Indianapolis.
"It's just fun to be part of a team again, be in the clubhouse, do the bus trips with the guys -- that's what I missed the most," Taillon said. "Walking to the park, going to eat with guys, talking with my catcher in between innings, going over a lineup, the scouting report -- those are the fun little things that I really missed while I was away."
Mud Hens starter Matt Boyd (1-1) yielded two unearned runs on four hits and two walks with five punchouts in five innings.
Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.