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Jameson Taillon says a fire is now lit underneath him after being traded to the Yankees on Sunday. The Pittsburgh Pirates are a clear rebuilding franchise, but Taillon now finds himself with a group that is in win-now mode. And because of that, he’s ready to do his part to reach the ultimate World Series goal.
But the biggest question surrounding this trade for the former No. 2 overall pick is as simple as this: Is Taillon healthy enough to contribute in 2021?
The tall right-hander hasn’t pitched in a Major League game since May 2019, as he needed to undergo his second Tommy John surgery. It’s rare for pitchers to return to their old selves after another operation on the ulnar collateral ligament in their throwing elbow, but Taillon is attempting to do just that.
He’s also extremely confident it’s going to work out for himself and the Yanks.
“As far as health goes, I’m feeling great. I’m ready to roll,” he told the New York media via Zoom on Monday. “All my bullpens have gone extremely well. Everything is on schedule for me. I think I can contribute. I put a lot of work into my rehab to put myself in a position to contribute to a team like the Yankees. I’m confident that I’ll be ready to go and I can add something.”
The reason behind the confidence is that Taillon had a revelation as he sat in his hospital bed post-surgery. Saying he immediately felt healthy, he knew that if he wanted his career to continue, something had to change.
Back to the drawing board.
“From the physical side, I kinda had a coming to grips moments where I said, ‘You know what? My current set of mechanics isn’t working.’ That’s just the cold hard truth. I needed to change something or my career is going to be over, so I stripped it all the way down,” he said. “With rehab, all you have is time. I had 12, 16 months to strip it all the way down, revamp my mechanics and revamp my career.”
It’s never easy for a pitcher to remodel their delivery, especially considering what they did got them to professional baseball in the first place. But whenever a transformation of mechanics occurs, it’s usually not from the arm but rather the legs.
That’s where Taillon’s problem was, and he thinks he’s found the answer.
“I changed the way my lower body works,” he explained. “I’m focused more on like a hip hinge movement, which gets your glutes involved. You hear as a kid, ‘Throw with your legs.’ Well, I’ve never been properly taught what that really meant. So now I’m actually activating my legs in a way that takes some pressure off my arm. By cleaning up the way my lower body moves, it’s shortened up my arm path. So I used to have this really long, whippy arm motion and now it’s much closer to the body. It might look like a short-arm action to a lot of people, but really it’s just a product of the way my body is moving.”
For those that might be a little confused on what Taillon is saying, a look at his mechanics in 2019 could paint a picture for what fans could see on the Yankee Stadium mound at some point this season.
As his leg comes down and delivery to the plate is imminent, Taillon breaks his hands away from his glove early and starts his arm circling way back behind his body – as he put it, a “whippy” motion. If you were to watch that in slow motion, you’d see Taillon’s arm actually act as a whip because his momentum is driving to the plate and his arm naturally has to catch up to spot the ball at the catcher’s glove. It creates tons of torque and leads to 95-mph speed, but a lot of tension is put on the elbow, too.
What Taillon explains is a new lower body movement now shortens up the arm, and in turn, will make things more compact. He also mentions things being more deceptive, which is always a plus in the big leagues. He even says he’s adding more spin to his fastball and slider – two of his favorite pitches – and he’s still managing to stay in the 92-95 mph range for his heater.
It’s been very hard work to get to where Taillon is today – now with the Yankees and potentially being a key rotation pitcher. But he was willing to do different things in the weight room (worked on connection ball and medicine ball drills), research into delivery mechanics, and take a patient approach to reconfigure his game to the decimal point.
“I think if have two Tommy Johns, it’s clear something you were doing wasn’t working,” he said. “So, if you have a second Tommy John and you’re not willing to strip it down and change the way you’re throwing and your routine and what you’re doing in the weight room and stuff, I could see how the stuff might regress or you might not make it back.”
After saying everything has looked good since he started throwing on flat ground and progressed into bullpens, only game performances will be the true test to how well this major change has been for Taillon. The Yankees are certainly hoping it works because he’s another high-ceiling pitcher they’re betting on.
Taillon is also betting on himself because he knows this has to work if he wants to keep his career going, this time in the Bronx.
“It’s the first time in my career I’m excited to throw,” he said.