INDIANAPOLIS – Jameson Taillon didn’t need much time to know he made strides in his second rehab start after having surgery for testicular cancer.
That’s because the ice tank didn’t feel to be as immediate of a need this time around.
Taillon allowed three hits and one unearned run in five innings for Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday, striking out six batters and walking none. He threw 49 of his 68 pitches for a strike. That followed a 3-inning rehab start with Double-A Altoona on Sunday.
“Last time I felt like I got hit by a train,” Taillon said. “I had total body soreness and felt like I needed to sit in an ice tank. That return to competition and the adrenaline takes a certain toll on your body. But (after his start Friday) I’m not feeling the effects of it.”
Going into the game, Taillon had a goal of making it further than three innings with at least four innings and 70 pitches in mind. He eclipsed those marks and could have feasibly gone out for another inning.
“If he felt like he really wanted to go back out for the sixth we may have entertained it,” said Scott Mitchell, the organization’s senior pitching coordinator. “I was pleased with him getting through the fifth after going three the previous outing. He looked strong from start to finish.”
In his previous rehab start with Altoona, Mitchell noticed the slightest hint of Taillon wearing down against the last batter he faced that outing. No such problems were visible with Indianapolis on Friday.
“(With Altoona), against the last batter, pitches kind of elevated,” Mitchell said. “This outing I didn’t see any signs of him tiring in the fifth. Pitches were still crisp, they still had angle. I think it was just a matter of him getting back out there and getting his legs underneath him.”
So, as with most rehab outings, one big question remains: how close is Taillon ready to return to the Pirates?
Taillon said he will discuss the matter with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, pitching coach Ray Searage, and head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk. But it’s not difficult to see which way Taillon is leaning in the decision-making process.
“I personally feel ready mentally, physically,” he said. “And then it’s kind of out of my hands. I feel I have bullets ready to pitch in the big leagues but I need to make sure I can help the team and I’m stretched out enough to go deep into ballgames, and help the bullpen and not overwork them.”
The big test will be how Taillon feels on Sunday, when he throws a side session after a day off. If he feels good that day, there could be thought into bringing him back to the Pirates. His command of all pitches was good, which was one slight lingering issue he wanted to address in Friday’s rehab outing.
“Today my changeup was really good and in the last start it wasn’t,” Taillon said. “My curveball is a pitch I can roll out of bed usually and throw. It’s just something I’m really comfortable with. That was good both outings I’ve had, but I was really pleased with the changeup moving forward.”
Taillon said prior to the start that he would be willing to tinker with a few sequence-type matters if he thought they would help him upon his return to the Pirates. He struck out one batter with a curveball on a full count, while he said he did some minor things, but “nothing crazy” with the sequencing of his two-seam and four-seam fastballs.
“We just wanted to use both sides of the plate with the four-seam and two-seam,” Indianapolis catcher Jacob Stallings said. “That was the plan going in and I thought we did a good job of that. His two-seam is so good that he throws that more than his four-seam. I thought he did a nice job of throwing to both sides of the plate and that’s what you have to do in the big leagues and that’s what he did tonight.”
The next two days might decide what the next step is for Taillon. Indianapolis would be on the road in Toledo for his next rehab outing, barring any desire to give him multiple extra days of rest. If Taillon feels good after throwing his side session, it might not be unreasonable to think his meteoric return from testicular cancer would be able to continue without any further rehab starts.