Charlie Morton and Jameson Taillon were never big-league teammates in Pittsburgh, but the two became acquainted when they were rehabbing in the Pirates’ organization. As far as baseball careers go, that was several lifetimes ago.
Morton was in Pittsburgh from 2009-2015. He battled injuries and inconsistency throughout his time there, departing the Steel City with a 4.54 ERA and a scar on his right elbow, courtesy of Tommy John surgery. Taillon, meanwhile, became the second overall pick in 2010 when the Pirates called his name. He overcame his own UCL reconstruction as a minor leaguer and debuted in 2016. He went on to fight testicular cancer, undergo a second Tommy John procedure and miss the entire 2020 season before the Pirates traded him to the Yankees this past offseason.
It was with New York that Taillon completed his most recent comeback.
While Taillon was trying to establish himself in Pittsburgh, Morton was enjoying a career renaissance. He became a trusted arm in a deep Astros rotation that won a championship in 2017 and was a first-time All-Star at age 34 in 2018. Morton returned to the Midsummer Classic in 2019 and finished third in AL Cy Young voting. He made it back to the World Series with the Rays last year. He owns a 3.38 ERA in 13 postseason games.
Now Morton, 37, is back in Atlanta, where his winding major league journey began in 2008. He’s providing Taillon with a template.
“[He’s] made the most of the backend of his career,” Taillon said on April 6, a day before completing his latest comeback in his Yankees debut. “[He] never stopped learning and went out and kind of reinvented himself. So that’s a guy I kind of want to model myself after.”
It was only fitting that Taillon’s best performance yet as a Yankee came on Tuesday with Morton and the Braves opposing him.
The two dueled it out, each allowing just one run. The Yankees got the last laugh, winning 3-1. Taillon went five innings and 80 pitches, surrendering four hits and a walk while striking out five. It was the 29-year-old’s first time throwing at least five innings since May 1, 2019—his last start as a Pirate.
“I thought the stuff was really good tonight,” said Taillon, who wasn’t as sharp in his first two Yankees starts. “I thought it was crisp.”
The right-hander and manager Aaron Boone were especially happy with Taillon’s fastball-breaking ball combo. Taillon said he worked on elevating his heater in between starts and refined his game plan to incorporate more curveballs, which complimented his four-seamer.
Taillon dropped 16 hooks on Tuesday, compared to 10 in his last start on April 13.
“I’m most excited about putting that work in on the side and seeing it show up in the game,” he said. “If I can keep doing that for 30 starts or whatever that number is, I think we’ll be in a really good place going forward.”
Boone was also pleased with Taillon’s relative efficiency. The manager said he pulled the hurler after five innings because he thought “it was time,” not because of his pitch count. Boone wanted him to have a strong start to improve on, but he is generally okay with asking Taillon for more.
“He’s built up to where I feel good about getting him into the 90s, even probably 100 pitches at this point,” Boone said.
Taillon threw 74 and 84 pitches in his first two starts, respectively.
Morton slightly outlasted Taillon, tossing six innings of three-hit baseball while striking out six and walking two. He threw 99 pitches.
Morton’s only mistake came against third baseman Gio Urshela, who took him deep for his second home run of the year. The Yankees scored their final two runs against Atlanta’s bullpen thanks to a wild pitch and a bases-loaded walk.
Taillon was glad to face off against his former Pirates peer on Tuesday, even if most of his Yankees teammates weren’t.
“He’s a great dude. I have fun watching him compete,” Taillon said. “But to be able to clip him there, he had a pretty solid night. He was tough on our guys all night.”
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