Yankees’ Jameson Taillon on his injury return, cancer scare

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New Yankees starter Jameson Taillon, acquired in a January trade with the Pirates after missing the 2020 season following Tommy John surgery, gets the call for some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: How would you describe the Yankee Way?

A: I’ve already noticed guys around me in the clubhouse and stuff carry themselves a little differently. There’s a real professionalism. Not to say other teams I’ve been on aren’t professional, this is just different. Guys are showing up every day with a purpose, the conversations are a little different, guys are always talking about their craft, always talking about getting better, always watching video together, always watch each other throw. So there’s just something different in the air, the conversations are different, the way guys prepare, it’s a little bit different.

Q: How do you feel about being with an organization that has a World Series-or-bust mindset?

A: I think it’s refreshing. I think every team should have that attitude. And here, from ownership all the way down, everyone shares the same goal. A lot of other organizations are about the process or progress or development. Here, yeah those things matter, but you gotta couple that with you’re gonna develop, but you’re gonna learn how to win. I’ve noticed that from Yankees affiliates even in the minor leagues, they were always competitive when I played them. For me, I think it’s refreshing to have an organization that’s willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Q: Describe your mound mentality.

A: I’m a pretty laid-back guy. But just because I look laid-back, I’ve got something burning inside of me and my heart’s racing. I might look calm in big moments, I get amped up, and I get so amped up to the point like before a game, I don’t listen to pump-up music because I know my heart rate’s gonna be high and I know my adrenaline and my emotions are gonna be high, so I don’t need anything else to kind of push me or take me to that level. When I was a kid, my dad’s big quote was, “If I’m walking into the ballpark,” me pitching, “I missed a few innings, I shouldn’t be able to know what the score is whether you’re up 10 or down 10.” So I kind of took that to heart. That’s something I’ve always had some pride in — whether we’re up, down, whether I’m dominating or whether I’m struggling and grinding, I’m not trying to give the hitter any cue or tip into how I’m feeling or what my kinda mind state is.

Jameson Taillon
Jameson Taillon
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Q: How are you physically right now?

A: The best I’ve been in a long time. Arm-wise great, overall health-wise great. I just feel like I’m in a really good place right now.

Q: What are your goals for this season?

A: Number one goal would just be contribute any way I can to this team, and to bring a championship back to New York. Guys around here I’ve already noticed aren’t shy about talking about the big goals that we have, and you know we’re probably one of only a few teams in baseball that can confidently go into the year and say, “It’s World Series-or-bust this year.” We expect to be there. So any way I can contribute to that, and then, just selfishly, I want to just stay healthy, be really stubborn with all the drill work I’ve been doing to help my mechanics along the way. I want to carry over my work into games, and I’d love to be in the rotation.

Q: Do you feel like the best is yet to come for you?

A: I do, yeah. I definitely do. I wouldn’t have rehabbed this most recent injury as hard as I did, and I wouldn’t have been this curious about my mechanics and career if I didn’t think I had the best ahead of me.

Q: What makes Gerrit Cole, Gerrit Cole?

A: A mix of things. I’d say the overall pitch package he has — he’s disgusting, he’s so nasty. You couple that with his pure talent level and his physical work with the mind of like an analyst … you’re mixing one of the most talented athletes in the world in any sport with the mind of just a brilliant thinker, and that’s just a really dangerous combination for hitters.

Q: What have you noticed about Corey Kluber?

A: I’ve been asked about him a lot actually from guys on other teams and stuff. I would say the thing I’ve been most impressed with is he comes into the weight room every day, has a routine that he hits every day, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the day after he pitches or the day before he pitches. When he plays catch, every delivery is the same, he’s repeating his delivery, he’s very locked in. He’s got some great insights and great experience, and there’s some personality in there too.

Q: Describe Aaron Judge in the batter’s box.

A: (Laugh) I mean, a presence, a true presence. You’re used to seeing big athletes in the box. … I just faced him in a live BP last week, and you lift your leg and you’re like, “Oh crap, don’t miss over the middle here, or else it’s gonna go a long way.”

Q: What is Gary Sanchez like behind the plate?

A: I’ve thrown a live BP to him and I’ve thrown to him in a game. I’ve noticed a guy who wants to learn, he wants to get to know me, he’s made a real effort to get to know me even when he’s not lined up to catch my bullpen and stuff, he’s there watching, he’s asking good questions. Behind the dish, he does that kind of more modern like one-knee setup or like that one leg out and I really like it.

Q: Deivi Garcia?

A: He’s a really good kid. From a baseball standpoint, playing catch with him, he might not throw 100 like some other guys, but his ball has some crazy deception and just some crazy hop to it. It literally seems like it’s kind of just hopping on you. It’s getting there quicker than you anticipate.

Q: How would you assess the rotation?

A: A lot of talent. A lot of intelligent pitching minds. I think the more we get to know each other and the more we work together, we can make each other better. Obviously understand there’s some health histories between me and Kluber and stuff, but I think the rotation has a chance to be really, really good.

Q: How would you assess the lineup?

A: The easiest way to describe it is, there’s just not a break. The lineup’s deep. I don’t know exactly what the lineup’s gonna look like, but that eight-hole hitter can hit three-hole on a lot of teams. I’ve also been super-impressed by the patience of these hitters. I’ve never really, really paid attention to their lineup, you see the highlight homers and stuff, but seeing it up close, I think there’s gonna be a lot of long innings. Not everything’s gonna be a grand slam, there’s gonna be games where they just wait a pitcher out, take their walk, pass it to the next guy, work your count, move the runner over, take another walk. … So it’s just gonna be draining for pitchers.

Q: What makes DJ LeMahieu, DJ LeMahieu?

A: I think he has a really good understanding of the strike zone, really good understanding of what he wants to hit, really good understanding of how pitchers want to attack him, and it just seems like he just finds the barrel, he’s got a really good feel for the barrel.

Q: How often have you pitched at Yankee Stadium?

A: Never. Only been as a fan. I went to a game with my brother, the summer of 2010, right after I got drafted [by the Pirates] and I was waiting to sign. Then I went back in 2014 or ’15, I went for a checkup up there to see the doctor that did my elbow surgery, and I decided to buy my own tickets and go to a game.

Q: What do you think your emotions will be standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium?

A: I think my emotions in like a sentimental side of it would be a little more actually in the dugout watching a game, but once I’m on the mound I think I’ll be pretty locked in.

Q: If you could pick the brain of any pitcher in MLB history, who would it be?

A: I just recently revamped my mechanics a lot, [so] someone that I could go back in time and just watch and say, “Man, he was way ahead of his time,” it would be Nolan Ryan. It’s no secret he threw gas, but I don’t even care about the results, I just would talk to him about his mechanics and the positions he found himself in, because he was always in a really strong position to throw.

Q: If you could face one hitter in MLB history?

A: The answer you have to say here would be like Ted Williams or Babe Ruth. You know what? Actually I’m gonna go different. I feel like that’s the easy way out. I’ll take Tony Gwynn.

Q: Why Tony Gwynn?

A: He was another guy who was super ahead of his time. He rarely struck out, incredibly hard hitter to strike out. Always walked more than he struck out. So I’d just be curious like what his bat-to-ball skills would look like and what his approach would be against me.

Q: You were a fan of Roger Clemens?

A: When I was a kid, falling in love with the game, I think he won seven Cy Young awards. He was a dude I just grew up idolizing, and he kind of carried that label as like a Texas power pitcher.

Q: How do you feel about his alleged steroids use?

A: I think it’s just hard to place judgment on people from back then, because it’s just a different time and it’s a different era. I would never do it if I had it presented to me. If I could go back and I was told, “Hey you can take steroids and avoid your two Tommy John surgeries,” I still wouldn’t do it. Just ethically and morally I don’t agree with it. At the same time, those guys were in a different age, different time, different things were normal, so I guess it’s more like, “Who am I to judge?”

Q: You liked watching Justin Verlander as well?

A: I watched him in high school. He was always a guy I could actually try to kind of add some of his game to mine.

Q: What is it about you, after all you’ve been through, that makes you so hopeful, so optimistic, so positive? Where does that come from, and why do you think you’re that way?

A: I think through every setback I’ve grown a lot. And my setbacks are kind of spread out enough so I had some success in between. So I had my first Tommy John in ’14, and then I had testicular cancer in 2017, and I had a nice run in between. And then I had another run from ’17 to my next Tommy John. So I’d say through every setback I’ve always just been optimistic because I know what I have to offer, and I know I can make it back and be healthy and contribute to a team. But at the same time, I love baseball, I love the game, I love working hard, I love competing hard, I love the process, but at the same time I’ve also learned the hard way that there’s more to life than baseball, there’s bigger purpose. If you have your health, you have everything. Your elbow health matters for my career, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m healthy, I’m breathing, I’m living … so I’d say I just appreciate what I have and what’s in front of me a little more than probably some of the people around me.

Yankees
Jameson Taillon
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Q: So what advice would you have for people going through different types of adversity?

A: If there was a person going through elbow adversity, I could give ’em like a specific training-room program I use or a weight-room program. But going through a cancer diagnosis is a little different. I like what Chad Bettis told me — he was a pitcher with the Rockies who underwent treatment for testicular cancer. I texted him one day, and I was like, “Hey man, I’m only weeks out of my diagnosis, but I feel healthy and I want to pitch.” And he was like, “You’re the only one that can decide that. If you feel like you belong on a baseball field, who’s gonna stop ya? I think you need to be on a baseball field.” This is kind of a cliché answer, but just being willing and open to talk to people. If you have a cancer diagnosis, it’s great to have a support system, it’s great to let it out, talk to people. So, no matter what you’re going through, I’d say just make sure you recognize the support system you have and the people that care about you, just really lean on them.

Q: What are you the most proud of about yourself?

A: I’d say it’s something you just said: Through every obstacle and adversity, I’ve kept a good spirit about myself … sometimes misery loves company, and people that are hurt are in a dark place and they don’t want other people to have success, and I felt like I kept a really good head about my shoulders, and I found a way to impact people in the clubhouse even when I was hurt or going through something.

Q: When you first found out about your testicular cancer, what was the one most terrifying moment you remember?

A: Kind of just telling people, because we were confident we caught it early, but when you attach the word cancer to anything, there’s that unknown, and there’s that kind of scary factor to it, which is rightfully so. I really didn’t want to worry my family and friends and my teammates and the people I care about. It was tough to have those conversations, it was tough to know that people around me were probably scared.

Q: How scared were you?

A: I was scared in the sense like you hear the word cancer, it’s terrifying. But I realized how lucky I was, I got first-class treatment that not everyone’s entitled to. I got in with doctors in Pittsburgh right away, I got the best [personal trainers] in the world getting me back on the field. I had trainers watching my every move, I have a brother that’s a doctor in Florida. … I just felt like I was so lucky to have all that around me, so I don’t know if I was ever completely scared ’cause everyone around me was so good at what they were doing, I felt like it was all under control.

Q: What advice would you have for Aaron Boone following his pacemaker surgery?

A: I would say if he wants to take time, take as much time as he needed. If you want to get back to it and feel right, and being in the clubhouse makes you feel better, that’s where you need to be. And on the other side of it would be just lean on your family, lean on your friends, if you need something don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone because we’ve all got his back.

Q: What are your impressions of him?

A: The biggest thing I can say about him was up until this procedure, he was there for every one of my live BPs and bullpens. That’s a big deal for a pitcher, because a lot of managers are more offensive-oriented, spend more time around the hitters, and for Booney to be there standing behind me, and not just standing there and being there, but he was actually engaged in what I was doing. He would stand behind my bullpen and make a comment about a pitch, or ask me a question and try to get to know what I’m thinking. And I can promise you, not every manager is doing that, not even close.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: Jackie Robinson, Steve Irwin, Tiger Woods.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: “Gladiator.”

Q: Favorite actor?

A: Jason Bateman.

Q: Favorite actress?

A: Jennifer Aniston.

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?

A: Kygo.

Q: Favorite meal?

A: A good wood-fired pizza with a good glass of red wine and maybe a good salad on the side.

Q: Who is the best table tennis player on the Yankees?

A: I’m not sure yet. Usually pitchers are pretty good, and then middle infielders are always just so athletic, so if I just had to guess, I’m gonna guess like a Tyler Wade-type guy.

Q: Are they aware of your prowess?

A: (Laugh) No, I don’t think so. I haven’t been walking around boasting it just yet.

Q: But you’re pretty good, right?

A: I used to be. I used to play a lot, and I used to really, really like it. I don’t play as much anymore, a couple of elbow injuries, I don’t want to risk anything, switch up the routine.

Q: Favorite New York City things?

A: I’ve been to some great restaurants, great cocktail bars, great breakfast spots. I don’t remember all the names of ’em, but I’m sure my girlfriend has ’em all written down.

Q: You’re a notorious coffee lover. But only two cups a day?

A: I’ll occasionally hit three if I really need it, but I’m usually two cups, and I put a lot of care into each cup.

Q: Are you going to be on the prowl for the best coffee in New York City?

A: Absolutely, yeah. I’ve already tweeted something out asking for the best cup of coffee in New York, and I actually started a notes section on my iPhone just keeping track of all the places I need to go, all the places I need to hit. I’ve heard from a lot of people that if you need the best cup of coffee just go to Williamsburg and find any coffee shop, so I’m looking forward to that.

Q: Your message to Yankees fans?

A: I’m really excited to get up there, I’m excited to see what Yankees fans are all about, I’ve heard stories from playoff games and stuff from friends that have played at Yankee Stadium, and they said this is one place where that home-field advantage is a very real thing. So I’m ready to feel that, I’m ready to see that.

Q: What drives you?

A: A lot of things. That’s changed over the years. At a young age, it was just the desire to be the best, the desire to make the big leagues, the desire to represent my family, my high school, my girlfriend, my friends that have stuck by me. Then, after some injuries, I’d say that kind of switched. What really started driving me is I wanted to prove people right. I don’t get much energy from doubters. And then, after going through cancer, something else that drives me is just pitching for the people that can’t, pitching for the people that may have lost someone that loved baseball.

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