PITTSBURGH — Jameson Taillon is back.
The 25-year-old successfully returned from surgery to treat testicular cancer on Monday, helping the Pirates beat the Colorado Rockies, 7-2 at PNC Park.
It was a big day for Taillon and an emotional one, too, as he returned to a big-league mound five weeks to the day from his surgery. Taillon said he felt good, but there were definitely some nerves involved.
“It was pretty similar to my debut,” he said. “Shaky legs. There was some good emotions out there.”
After the end of the first inning, Taillon said that he settled in, but he still wasn’t quite up to his usual high bar. His velocity was fine, with all four of his pitches pretty much hitting their season average. The spin on the curveball was excellent, as always. But his command was just a little bit off. He threw just 49 strikes out of his 82 pitches and issued two free passes.
“His command wasn’t anything close to what we’ve seen in the past,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He went out there and he pitched. It was fun to watch. He had to roll up his sleeves and go to work.”
The Rockies put a runner in scoring position in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings, but Taillon was up to the task, inducing one double play and stranding the rest.
“I felt good,” he said. “I felt crisp. My pitches had some life to them. That’s a good lineup. That’s a tough lineup. A lot of tough takes. It’s a team I had to roll up my sleeves against them.”
Taillon was removed after five innings and 82 pitches. With all the traffic, plus a hot day in Pittsburgh, it was enough for the first outing back.
“I felt really strong,” he said. “I got in some trouble there late, but I still felt really good. I think the adrenaline in a major-league game is a little bit more. Eighty pitches on a big-league field might be a little different than the 95 I threw a little while ago in Triple-A.”
The next step for Taillon is a familiar one: the mundane five-day routine of a major-league starter. After all he’s been through in the last five weeks, that’s looking pretty good right now.
“All I wanted this whole time was to get back into a regular routine, pitch every five days,” he said. “It’s obviously important to speak out and use my platform in a powerful way. But, for me, right now, pitching every fifth day will be important.”
Taillon’s next outing should come Sunday afternoon in the series finale with the Chicago Cubs. Here’s more from Taillon on his big night:
ON BASE ALL DAY
Josh Harrison was a menace for the Rockies on Monday. He hit a two-run home run to open the scoring in the first. He made a ridiculous slide at first base to escape a tag and reach on an error in the third — and later came around to score. He singled to keep a two-out rally going in the sixth. By the time he came back up in the seventh, first base was open and Colorado manager Bud Black had seen enough. Harrison was intentionally walked.
Harrison is on a 10-game hitting streak and his batting average is all the way up to .311. But he’s doing way more than hitting. Harrison has always been a difference-maker on the base paths with his speed and aggressiveness, but he never got on base enough to make those things play the way they could.
His highest single-season on-base percentage before his season was a .347 mark in 2014. This year, he’s getting on base at a .381 clip, and that’s the reason Hurdle has let him have an extended run in the No. 2 spot in the batting order.
“He’s been hit by some pitches, he’s gotten some walks, he’s extended some at-bats, he’s seen more pitches per plate appearance, he moved the ball around, he’s in a very solid place offensively against right and left-handers,” Hurdle said. “It’s a spark. There’s energy up there. He finds ways to get things done.”
Harrison is providing some pop, too. His home run Monday was his eighth of the season. His slugging percentage is up to .481, and while that’s still a hair below his career year in 2014, the combination of the two has his OPS all the way up to .862. He finished 2014 with an .837 mark.
Harrison deflected any heaping of credit, saying that he’s healthier than he’s been and that the offense is hitting well around him. While that part is true, it’s a two-way street. A hitter like Harrison needs other players to have good at-bats behind him so that he can steal, hit-and-run and take extra bases. That havoc helps the rest of the hitters, too. Harrison is third on the team in runs scored and his base running antics can help the hitter behind him get a simplified approach from a distracted pitcher.
MAX UP HIGH
Max Moroff started and hit leadoff for the first time in his career, giving Adam Frazier a day off. He did everything but get a hit, earning a walk, getting hit by a pitch, reaching on a fielder’s choice and hitting a sacrifice fly.
It was a satisfying offensive night for a couple of reasons. Moroff told me the last time we spoke that he wanted to cut down on strikeouts and have a better two-strike approach. He drew a five-pitch walk in his first plate appearance, worked a six-pitch at-bat on a 3-1 count before grounding out in the second and protected well at 2-2 before grounding into a force out in the sixth.
Moroff also played the part of leadoff hitter well. He took two bases on a throwing error in the fourth and scored from second on a single in the sixth.
“That’s what I was thinking (when I put him up there),” Hurdle said. “I think the skill set plays. He’s done it in the minor leagues.”