ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Yeah, again.
Jameson Taillon, the Pirates' top pitcher entering this season, had his scheduled surgery to repair a flexor tendon in his right arm take a devastating detour Tuesday when it was decided in mid-procedure he also needed Tommy John surgery, the second of his career, to repair the ulnar collateral ligament. Dr. David Altchek performed the operation in New York and made the call, as Taillon and all involved with the Pirates had authorized him to do.
Taillon isn't projected to return to competitive pitching until 2021. Had it been just the flexor tendon, there'd been a good chance he could've pitched at some point in 2020.
As Todd Tomczyk, the Pirates' director of sports medicine, had said a week earlier, "It's always the surgeon’s discretion. Once they get in the operation, they may see something. They will examine and identify all the other structures involved in the area. And if something needs to be addressed, that’s something that the patient and the organization have to consent to prior to surgery. That's very standard.”
Asked Wednesday if all of that still applied, Tomczyk replied, "That is correct."
Why not opt for surgery sooner?
Taillon had been shut down for two months while he and the team went about conservative rest-and-rehab treatment.
"You always want to avoid surgery," Tomczyk said on that subject. "He was examined by numerous experts throughout the country who all reviewed the case, looked at the images time and time again, and the recommendation was to continue with conservative care."
Of Taillon's mindset at the moment, Tomczyk said, "Although Jameson is disappointed in this outcome, he's most disappointed that he won't be able to compete with his teammates next year, to compete for his fans, to compete for the city of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, Jameson has been through some setbacks before in his career, and he's bound and determined to make this another comeback. ... He's optimistic. I've never known him to not be optimistic."
Taillon's first Tommy John came in 2014, delaying his Pittsburgh debut until 2016, then had surgery to treat testicular cancer in 2017.
The Pirates' on-field personnel were aware of the news as it happened Tuesday, but the team didn't announce it until Wednesday afternoon.
It was met here about as one would expect.
"It's tough news," Trevor Williams was telling me in the visitors' clubhouse at Angel Stadium. "But we know that Jamo's capable of coming back. I've already got him penciled in to be our 2021 Comeback Player of the Year. It's going to be a long, tough road ahead. He's done it before. He's more than capable of pulling himself out of this and coming back stronger."
"As ballplayers, that's our livelihood, man, our health and the condition of our arm," Joe Musgrove told me. "To go through one Tommy John is challenging enough, let alone a second Tommy John and a flexor repair. That's a lot on his plate, but I just texted him yesterday and said, 'Hey, man, if anyone's built to make a comeback like this, it's you. So we'll be there for you every step of the way. We're not going to forget about you. We'll be waiting for you when you get back.' I mean, it feels like — this is terrible terminology for it, I guess — but it feels like one of your friends is dying. We know we're not going to get him at all next year."
Everyone with whom I spoke had reached out to Taillon in one form or other, including Clint Hurdle.
"It wasn't the result or the finding we were looking for," Hurdle said. "However, now, we'll deal with the reality of what it is and do everything we can to support him and encourage him. Again. I'm sure there'll be a time and place where he'll figure out what his next steps are, and he'll put a foot down and go."
Taillon joins Chad Kuhl and Edgar Santana in working back from Tommy John. Kuhl underwent the procedure in September 2018, Santana a month later.
I asked Hurdle what this means for the current staff, even into next season:
"You know there's going to be opportunity. The game presents it," Hurdle replied. "Very rarely do you have — I think, what, two years ago we had seven starters make it through the whole season? That's an anomaly. More often than not, you like to plan for nine deep going out of spring training. Sometimes you get deeper than that. We've got some guys that have already experienced some opportunity here, Brault being one of them, Dario Agrazal being another, Mitch Keller being one, as well. So we'll have different conversations after the season and what the next tier looks like, but there's definitely going to be opportunity."
The only other injury update from Tomczyk: Richard Rodriguez, on the 10-day IL with an inflamed right shoulder, has resumed playing catch on flat ground. He's scheduled to throw a side session Friday at PNC Park.
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