MLB Baseball

Pirates' Taillon 'different person' after cancer surgery

(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

By JOHN PERROTTO

Associated Press

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) Jameson Taillon never allowed himself much time to think about his bout with testicular cancer last season.

The Pittsburgh pitcher's focus from nearly the moment he received the diagnosis in early May was to return to the mound as quickly as possible. Just five weeks later, he was activated from the disabled list and pitched five scoreless innings to beat the visiting Colorado Rockies.

"The best-case scenario is that it happened during the season," Taillon said. "I had my teammates for support, and I had a goal of returning to help the team to serve as a distraction."

Taillon stayed busy in the offseason. He played golf with teammates Daniel Hudson and A.J. Schugel in Arizona, attended the Florida-Florida State and Central Florida-South Florida college football games with his brother and went Christmas shopping in New York.

However, the winter months also gave Taillon time to stop and ponder the good fortune of recovering so quickly after surgery.

"I'm a different person, I don't think there is any doubt that," the 26-year-old Taillon said at the Pirates' spring training camp. "I know people always say that when they've gone through something like cancer, but it really is true. I look at life differently. I'm a little more serious about things. I'm a more mature person than I was a year ago at this time."

That is saying something because Taillon has been lauded for his maturity since the Pirates selected him second overall in the 2010 amateur draft from The Woodlands High School in suburban Houston. He was chosen one spot after the Washington Nationals drafted Bryce Harper and just before the Baltimore Orioles picked Manny Machado.

Taillon made his major league debut June 8, 2016, after being sidelined by elbow ligament reconstruction surgery not long after he reached Triple-A Indianapolis.

While he's made just 43 career starts in the majors, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle says Taillon has already emerged as a leader on a team that's younger following the offseason trades of 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants and former 19-game winner Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros.

"It's not so much his words, but his actions," Hurdle said. "The way he goes about things. The way he handles himself. The work he puts in. The adversity he has overcome. Those kinds of things make the other guys take notice."

Taillon's among four Pirates starters 26 or younger, along with Chad Kuhl, Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams. While 31-year-old Ivan Nova will likely get the opening-day nod March 29 when the Pirates visit the Detroit Tigers, Taillon has the pedigree of a potential staff ace.

Through his first two seasons, Taillon is a respectable 13-11 with a 3.98 ERA. He knows there is room for growth, but also feels his experience could begin paying off this year.

"I don't want to say I feel things are easier now because this game is never easy, but I do feel a lot more comfortable," Taillon said. "Not just with the pitching aspect, but just everything that goes into playing in the major leagues.

"I think back a couple of years ago to spring training and everything was kind of overwhelming. You're meeting so many people, trying to remember so many names, trying to fit in with the organization and (teammates). I'd go home at the end of the day and be exhausted. Now, I feel like I belong. I feel confident, on and off the field."

Updated February 22, 2018

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