Jameson Taillon won’t just make his Yankees debut when he takes the mound in the Bronx on Wednesday. He’ll also complete his second return from Tommy John surgery.
Taillon, acquired in an offseason trade with the Pirates, didn’t pitch last year after making just seven starts in 2019 thanks to his second ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction. Taillon underwent his first Tommy John surgery as a minor leaguer in 2014.
Naturally, he’s excited for his first start since May 1, 2019 and everything else the future potentially holds.
"I do feel like there's a lot ahead of me," the 29-year-old righty said Tuesday. "I've had injuries, but I do feel like I've got a lot of great innings ahead. Outside of the elbow, I feel like my arm has got a ton left to give. I've saved a lot of innings on the body, too, over the years."
Former pitcher Jarrod Parker wasn’t as lucky in his second comeback attempt.
Like Taillon, Parker had his first Tommy John surgery while he was a farmhand, with the Diamondbacks in 2009. Then, after two impressive seasons to start his big league career in Oakland, Parker fell victim to the procedure once again in the spring of 2014.
The Athletics’ projected Opening Day starter that year, Parker never threw another big league pitch after that. It wasn’t because of a psychological toll brought on by another UCL surgery, though.
"I was more mature obviously, being that I was older and stronger mentally,” Parker, comparing his second rehab to his first, told Inside the Pinstripes in a phone interview. “I already saw the light on the other end of the tunnel, so I wasn't as mentally challenged with it knowing that I got through it.”
Parker’s comeback attempt following his second Tommy John surgery was uniquely complicated by two medial epicondyle fractures in his elbow, but his distinctive circumstances don’t preclude him from offering advice to other pitchers trying to return from a second Tommy John surgery. Pitchers such as Taillon.
The Yankees starter has spent time throwing at Parker’s Nashville facility, Parker Sports Performance, in the past, and the two have talked about their big-league journeys.
One point, above all else, that Parker would stress to pitchers in Taillon’s situation? Don’t overdo it.
“It's hard to really press the brakes on that,” Parker said of the urge to compete post-surgery. “That's the biggest thing that I wish I could go back and do, kind of slow down."
Four other promising young pitchers required a second Tommy John surgery around the same time Parker did. The others were Braves hurlers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, San Diego’s Cory Luebke and Arizona’s Daniel Hudson. Parker had the most aggressive timetable of the group, per an article from Sports Illustrated in 2015. He made his first rehab start less than 13 months after his second Tommy John surgery.
Some wondered if he—and the Athletics—did too much, too soon.
"I always pushed myself too hard,” Parker said. “I wouldn't be in that situation or a successful pitcher if I wasn't a hard worker. I think—and I'm not going to throw any stones any which way—but there's also an outside source that sometimes has to step in and say, 'Hey, hold up!' We're all kind of in this as workhorses and sometimes it's hard to see it from that perspective.
"We're in a fraternity. There's guys that have literally done everything players are facing now. It's just reaching out to use them as the network and resource that they are. There's times where it's hard to take yourself out of that situation and realize that, 'I need to pump the brakes, but I'm competitive as hell and that's really challenging for me.' Being able to lean on teammates, elders, someone maybe outside the situation a little bit to see from a clearer view, is always helpful."
If Taillon ever loses sight of all that, the Yankees have made it clear that they will ease their new pitcher along in 2021. His debut will be the team’s sixth game; New York essentially skipped Taillon’s first turn through the rotation. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see that happen again this season—Aaron Boone has mentioned possibly using a sixth starter and other creative approaches—considering Taillon has thrown just 37.1 innings since the start of 2019.
Parker suggested using Taillon out of the bullpen at times as a way to manage his innings while keeping him fresh for an expected postseason run deep into October. Such an approach—or any that keeps Taillon’s workload in check—could of course have long-term benefits, too.
“If I could be as useful to this team as I can while also protecting myself a little bit and realizing that I'm probably going to be better in the next three to four years,” well, that’s a plus, Parker said.
It’s an interesting thought from Parker—one that comes from a place of experience—as the Yankees try to navigate a pitching staff littered with recent injury histories and extended absences beyond Taillon.
Parker may be doing too much, too soon again, though. Before all this talk of the future, there’s still the matter of Taillon’s first start back. Parker said he will try to tune into New York’s matchup with Baltimore.
Now 32, Parker never made another big league appearance after his second Tommy John surgery, but he can imagine how Taillon is going to feel when he steps on the rubber Wednesday.
"Probably joy,” Parker said. “Overwhelmed with happiness and joy."
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