As Taillon Returns to Pittsburgh, A Look Back at His Rocky Pirates Career

Photo credit: Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sport

Jameson Taillon with take the mound tonight at PNC Park for the first time in his career as an opponent of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  

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Jameson Taillon will return to the PNC Park mound tonight for the first time as an opponent of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He had a Pirates career that was defined by injury, recovery, triumph and more injury.  Drafted 2nd overall in 2010 at 18 years-old out of high school, Taillon didn’t find his way to the big leagues until 2016. 

It appeared Taillon would be ready to start alongside phenom pitcher Gerrit Cole in 2014.  However, it was announced that he’d need to undergo Tommy John Surgery, and miss all of the 2014 season.  Then, after recovering from TJS, Taillon suffered a sports hernia that would require surgery, ending his 2015 season as well.  After back-to-back years of recovery, he finally debuted in 2016. 

2016 was a decent year for Taillon, one that would result in the Pirates missing the playoffs after three straight seasons of postseason appearances.  Taillon went 5-4 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.  He was also able to eclipse 100 innings pitched which was quite the milestone for the injury-ridden pitcher.

The 2017 season would start off well for Taillon, and it appeared he was ready to take a big step forward.  Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and the surgery that followed caused him to miss most of May and part of June.  Luckily, he would return healthy and strong, starting 19 games after the surgery.  He posted just a 4.44 ERA and 1.48 WHIP on the season, but who could blame him after what he went through.

2018 was finally Taillon’s time to remain healthy and pitch effectively as an ace.  He’d post a career-best 3.20 ERA in 32 starts.  For a guy as injury-ridden as Taillon, it could be seen as a miracle for him to nearly pitch 200 innings in a season, finishing with 191 innings pitched.  He would also lead the National League with two complete games, one for a shutout.  At 26 years old, Taillon was turning the corner and showing he could be the ace of a rotation for years to come.

Unfortunately, Taillon wouldn’t be able to build off of his great 2018 season before getting bit again by the injury bug.  After just seven starts, he’d suffer a flexor strain that resulted in his second Tommy John surgery.  He wouldn’t pitch again until 2021 and that start on May 1st, 2019 would be his last appearance for the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

It was unsure how Taillon would return from his second TJS.  The procedure had certainly been enhanced over the years but very few cases occur where the pitcher has to undergo two of them at such a young age.  With that uncertainty, and the Pirates' new GM Ben Cherington in full selloff mode, the Pirates traded Taillon to the New York Yankees for a haul of prospects.  Despite not having pitched in a year and a half, the Yankees were willing to take the risk, completing the trade in January of 2021.

In return, the Pirates received right-handed pitcher Miguel Yajure, right-handed pitcher Roansy Contreras, outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba, and shortstop Maikol Escotto.  If you are familiar with the Pirates Top 30 prospects page on MLB.com, you are very familiar with all of these names.  Additionally, Contreras and Yajure have now received a decent amount of playing time at the major league level, and a Smith-Njigba had a cup of coffee in the big leagues before suffering an injury that would land him on the 60-day Injured List.  However, from a surface level it would appear the Pirates got quite the return for a guy that hadn’t pitched in a year and a half and was coming off of his 2nd TJS.

Now in his 2nd season with the Yankees, Taillon will take the hill tonight against the Pirates for the first time in his career.  He carries with him a very impressive 9-1 record, and a decent 3.32 ERA.  He started the season red-hot with a 2.30 ERA in his first 10 starts.  Since then, he has cooled off a little, giving up 3+ earned runs in four of his last five starts. 

So despite his rocky and injury-ridden career with the Pirates, Taillon was always seen as a fighter.  He went through more than most should have to by the age of 30.  He unfortunately didn't turn out to be one of the Pirates aces as he was projected to be, so opinions of Taillon are scattered among the fan base.  Regardless, he will receive a standing ovation when he takes the mound tonight, and with what he went through, and battled back from, in Pittsburgh, it will be well deserved.

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