Put aside some of the early problems, notably Gleyber Torres struggling defensively at shortstop and the Yankees struggling to hit with runners in scoring position, there was a definite feel good moment Wednesday.
Long before those things occurred, Jameson Taillon’s comeback from a second “Tommy John” surgery was on the way to of being completed when he threw his first warmup pitch.
Besides being a cancer survivor, Taillon is a member of the two-time Tommy John surgery club. According to data compiled by Jon Roegele, it is a group that includes current major leaguers Nathan Eovaldi Daniel Hudson and Joakim Soria, along with former major leaguers Chris Capuano, Darren Dreifort, Edinson Volquez and Jason Isringhausen.
So, you can forgive Taillon for feeling emotional about merely stepping foot on the mound after undergoing the second surgery on Aug. 13, 2019.
“I’m extremely grateful,” Taillon said. “This is going to sound cheesy, but I’ll never take a day in a big-league uniform for granted, that’s for sure.
“I was super happy to be out there, it felt really good to compete, good to get the first one out of the way. Really excited to be a part of this team.”
It also felt good for Taillon to be healthy enough to lament getting beaten on his fourth-best pitch, a hanging changeup to Cedric Mullins that landed in the right field seats.
“I wasn’t so sure, a couple years ago, that I would ever be on this stage again,” said Taillon, who survived testicular cancer in 2017. “There will never be anything like my debut. There will never be another moment like coming back cancer. But this is up there will all those. It’s very different, but it’s extremely exciting.”
Even more encouragement came from former Pittsburgh Pirates teammate Gerrit Cole, who was among the first teammates congratulating him in the dugout after 73 pitches with two outs in the fifth.
“Everyone understands what I’ve been through, but he really understands,” Taillon said.
Cole understands, not because of his own injury history but because of their friendship when they spent two seasons as teammates in 2016 and 2017. They kept in touch as Taillon won 14 games and then maintained contact on the road to recovery.
During Taillon’s recovery, Cole was helping the Astros get to the World Series and then being wooed by the Yankees before ultimately signing in New York in Dec. 2019. Along the way, Taillon was telling Cole about his revised mechanics and changes to his pitch mix.
Those revisions on the mechanical side including a shorter delivery that is significantly less compact than the previous version. In his introductory virtual press conference in January, Taillon admitted he had never been taught how to properly use his legs while pitching and a change is holding his right arm closer to his head and ear to lessen any stress on the arm.
“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.’” he said in January. “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.”
Among the changes to his pitch mix Taillon noted was a willingness to throw fastballs up in the strike zone to right-handed batters, something he said he would only do to left-handed hitters while noting in the past, his preferred pitch was a curveball.
The fastball accounted for 31 pitches and topped out at 95 with several readings of 93 mph, right below the 94.7 mph the fastball averaged two years ago before the second surgery.
And just like the Yankees are looking forward to fixing some of their early issues, they are anticipating more of Taillon’s continued road back from the lengthy process of recovering from the second Tommy John surgery.
“It’s kind of felt like one big, multiyear build up,” he said. “Really more than anything, it’s just positive emotion.”