Alyson Footer

Rehab in rear-view, Taillon ready for next step

'I feel more explosive, athletic,' Pirates hurler says of offseason routine

Rehab in rear-view, Taillon ready for next step

HOUSTON -- Given everything Jameson Taillon has gone through in his pro baseball career, he takes nothing for granted -- especially the simple act of going through the physical rigors required in order to be ready for an upcoming season.

After spending two years away from competition rehabbing his arm after Tommy John surgery, Taillon knows how awful it feels to be on the outside looking in, unable to compete at the highest level with his Pirates teammates. He was forced to stick with a rehab schedule, without that rush of competitiveness that engulfs a player when he walks onto the field.

In that respect, this offseason has been special, because it's been routine. Taillon, healthy, fit and ready to build on a promising debut in 2016, will head to Bradenton, Fla., in about a week to do what everyone else at Pirates Spring Training will be doing -- preparing for the season.

"I compare it to people that say you don't understand what having kids is like until you have your own," he said. "You don't understand what missing time in baseball is like until you actually miss it. You truly can't understand what going through a surgery is like until you're down there in the dumps. A lot of people forget about you except your support system; friends, family. It definitely gave me a newfound appreciation."

Healthy Taillon key to Pirates

Taillon is one of several professional ballplayers who trains at Fairchild Sports Performance in Houston. He works extensively with a staff led by founder Ben Fairchild, who has trained more than 100 pro ballplayers over the past five years since opening this Houston location. This offseason, approximately 40 ballplayers have used his facility.

That list includes Nationals closer Mark Melancon, Taillon's former Pirates teammate who gently suggested a while back that the right-hander might want to check it out.

Taillon, who grew up just north of Houston in The Woodlands and lives in Houston year-round, decided to give it a try once he was seemingly past the injury-prone start to his career.

Seeking a change in his training and nutrition habits, he called Fairchild and gave it a whirl. Taillon now considers that one of his smartest decisions.

"Because of the kind of mind he is, has a high level of trainability," said Fairchild, who has trained past Astros stars Andy Pettitte and Lance Berkman. "He's able to quickly absorb what we were teaching."

The workouts, intense and calculated, involve strength-building and agility, and, of course, a throwing program. Because he's not rehabbing, Taillon began his offseason routine feeling stronger and healthier than he has in the past, and he feels more ready for Spring Training than he has in years.

"I feel more explosive, athletic," he said. "It doesn't feel so 'rehab-y.' Time will tell, but I feel good."

Taillon's fantastic home outing

In a modest-sized room filled with several recognizable ballplayers -- Athletics infielder Jed Lowrie, Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, Melancon and Twins outfielder J.B. Shuck -- Taillon goes through several drills to build strength, stamina and resistance. After one core routine using a medicine ball, Taillon joked that the name of the exercise -- "throw ups" -- could be construed in more than one way, given the degree of difficulty and how he felt when it was over.

"There's a dual meaning," he said.

Taillon began his offseason regimen at Fairchild Sports Performance last October, a couple of weeks after the season ended. He trains four days a week, working the upper body one day, the lower body the next, and then taking one day off.

He began his throwing routine in December and has found some unique places to play catch, including the Home Depot parking lot on the other side of the street from the training facility.

Other than having an occasional conversation with a Home Depot employee taking a break, Taillon can do this mostly unnoticed.

"A lot of days we walk to a park or a baseball field and play catch, like little kids," he said. "Sometimes we go to Rice [University] and use their facility. But it's accessible here [at Home Depot]. We do our warmup, it's really convenient to go right out back and throw."

Taillon's goals for '17 are simple: He wants to establish himself as a workhorse in the middle of the Pirates' starting rotation. He has his eye on reaching the 200-inning mark -- "the magic number for pitchers."

"I saw a lot of guys that throw 200 innings at the big league level," Taillon said, naming, specifically, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Madison Bumgarner. "I want to be that guy."

Beyond that, Taillon's focus is narrower.

"I have to knock out one start at a time to get to that point," he said. "I want to stay healthy, have a good spring and take it from there."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.