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After mostly 2 years of inactivity, Taillon ready to take mound for Pirates

| Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, 8:51 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon throws in the bullpen during spring training Feb. 19, 2016, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Remember Jameson Taillon?

It has been two years since the burly right-hander pitched in a competitive situation. Finally recovered from elbow and hernia surgeries, Taillon on Monday will start in the Pirates' Black-Gold scrimmage at McKechnie Field.

Usually, a two-inning outing in a mostly empty ballpark is nothing to get worked up about. Taillon, however, is eager to get on the mound.

“More than anything, I'm excited that I'm not being treated differently and I'm moving along quickly,” Taillon said. “In the back of my head I was a little worried that I would be throwing a little slower (routine) than most. But I'm pretty much on the same schedule as everybody else.”

Taillon will throw a normal bullpen session later in the week, then be slotted to start a Grapefruit League game. The Pirates plan to give him a couple of starts, then reassign Taillon to minor league camp.

Barring any setbacks, Taillon will begin the season in the rotation at Triple-A Indianapolis. The Pirates are not considering holding him back for extended spring training.

“There will come a point in camp when you have to prioritize innings because you only have so many to work with,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Until that point, we do want to get a look at some of our (prospects), guys who can create depth, because some of them might find their way to our major league team this season.”

While Taillon, 24, was out of action, righty Tyler Glasnow surpassed him as the club's top-rated prospect. Scouts say Glasnow might have a higher ceiling than Taillon, though both project as top-of-the-rotation starters.

Yet, many Pirates evaluators believe Taillon, a first-round pick in 2010, is more likely than Glasnow to reach the majors first this year.

One of Taillon's edges is a mental toughness honed during two long and often lonely years of rehab.

“He's got quite a backbone about two ‘wasted' years,” Hurdle said. “This man's worked so incredibly hard and has gotten stronger in so many different areas outside the physical activity on the mound.”

The long layoff has not affected Taillon's stuff or command. The 12-to-6 curveball is still a hammer. His changeup can be effective. And his 96 mph fastball remains a devastating pitch.

“The biggest thing I'm looking for now is the ball is coming out of his hand good and he's healthy,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “The more reps he gets in, the sharper he's going to be. Right now, we're nothing but (looking) forward. All the stuff that's happened, I'm leaving it behind us.”

Taillon had Tommy John surgery in April 2014. During a rehab outing last July, he felt his groin grab when he stuck a landing on the mound.

“I finished that inning and didn't think too much of it,” Taillon said. ”I went fishing later that day and threw a couple casts and was just holding my breath because it hurt. That's when I knew.”

The operation to repair the hernia cost him the rest of the summer. In the early autumn, he pitched in the Instructional League in Florida — a handful of outings in front of empty bleachers at Pirate City.

For two years, Taillon was the best Pirates prospect who nobody was seeing.

“It was almost a little refreshing, honestly,” Taillon said. “My whole life, I've dealt with expectations, pressure and hype. For essentially two years, I got to get away from the spotlight.

“I got to work on things I might not have gotten to work on in Triple-A if I was trying to put up numbers to impress people and overthrow maybe. I was able to get more comfortable making adjustments without people's eyes all over me.”

That all changes Monday.

Welcome back to the hype, Jameson.

“Thanks,” he said, grinning. “It feels good to be back.”

Note: Reliever Robert Zarate reported left lateral elbow discomfort while playing catch Saturday. As a precaution, Zarate did not throw live batting practice Sunday.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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