Taillon looking to build off promising rookie season

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) For more than two years, Jameson Taillon waited.

Selected by Pittsburgh with the second overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft, between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Taillon was slowed by Tommy John surgery in spring 2014 and a sports hernia operation the following summer.

Taillon did not throw a meaningful pitch in a professional game from Sept. 1, 2013, until last April 13, then dominated Triple-A with a 2.04 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and .196 opponent average. The right-hander made his big league debut June 8 and went 5-4 with a 3.38 ERA in 18 starts, striking out 85 and walking 17 in 104 innings.

''I had two years to really kind of go back to the drawing board and rebuild myself,'' the 6-foot-5 Texas explained. ''I could say, `Hey maybe I am throwing too many fastballs at the belt. Maybe my fastball is too flat right now. How can I fix that? What can I do to get better? What can I do to get stronger?'

''So I got to work on a lot of stuff - and, no question, it all also made me a lot hungrier to get back.''

He arrived at spring training this year projected as the Pirates' No. 2 starter behind Gerrit Cole.

''It's nice to kind of done a little circuit and know how it works, and to have the confidence of your manager and your team,'' Taillon said. ''But that being said, I'm still preparing as if I'm not guaranteed a spot, and I think that will serve me well.''

After a long stretch where his goals included fully extending his arm or maybe lifting light weights, Taillon can now focus attention on refinements.

''I'm trying to get better at throwing my two-seamer at the extension side of the plate,'' Taillon said, miming the grip and delivery.

Now 25, Taillon was drafted from The Woodlands High School in Texas.

''He's hungry,'' Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said. ''He just wants to keep on learning and he wants to be one of the best of the best. I say all the time: his maturity is way beyond his years. Plus, he's got a good feel for the game. Some people are born to pitch. And I think Jameson is one of those people.''

Taillon acknowledges he played the ''what-if'' game in his mind. If he never had gotten hurt, would he already have had three solid major-league seasons in him? Would he have helped the 98-win Pirates of 2015 advance farther in the postseason? How many wins, strikeouts or recognition did two idle seasons cost him?

''I don't know how it would have worked out any other way,'' Taillon said. ''It was tough for a couple years, seeing guys my age debut and guys I got drafted with debut and guys that got picked around me in the draft debut and succeed. But through that maturing process I learned that I can't focus on what they were doing, I can only focus on my career and it was my path and my journey and it is what it is. And I think I'm better for going through it.''

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