PITTSBURGH (AP) — The videos from Jameson Taillon come every few days, a reminder to Pittsburgh Pirates manager Derek Shelton what hopefully awaits when spring training begins.
Taillon is on schedule to return in 2021 after missing most of 2019 and all of 2020 while recovering from a second Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. To say the 29-year-old is eager to get back to work might be an understatement.
“If you’re the Pirates manager and watching Jamo throw, it definitely makes you smile, so I’m excited for it,” Shelton said Tuesday. "He’s excited. His throwing’s going well, his rehab’s going well. He tackled it head-on and did about as good of a job as anybody can do, so I’m excited to watch Jamo take the mound at PNC.”
Taillon's return to PNC isn't exactly a given. The Pirates are in the midst of a massive makeover, one that got off to a somewhat bumpy start after finishing with a major-league worst 19-41 record during the truncated 2020 season. General manager Ben Cherington has hinted that there are few truly untouchable players on the roster save for perhaps third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes, who finished sixth in the 2020 Rookie of the Year balloting despite not being called up until September.
“People are going to call and ask about certain people, we are going to engage,” Shelton said. “But I think the thing that’s going to happen is if we do make trades, we will make them for the betterment of the Pirates moving forward. And how not only it is going to affect this year’s club but as we continue to go.”
Shelton praised his group for buying into the club's focus on shifting the culture to one that is more player-centric. He pointed to a small scene in the dugout near the end of the season as proof.
Right-hander Mitch Keller put together six no-hit innings against St. Louis on Sept. 19 but needed 84 pitches to do it. Any shot at going the distance was off the table. Shelton was heading over to Keller to thank him for a job well done when the rest of the starting staff cut him off and asked him to let Keller go back out for the seventh.
Shelton said no, mostly because he wanted to protect Keller, who missed most of the season due to an oblique injury. Yet the gesture of Keller's teammates going to bat for him stuck with Shelton.
“They were so engaged in that, that made me step away and be like, ’We are developing the right culture, we are developing the right things here and it’s only going to continue to get better,'” Shelton said. "And more importantly, the players are involved in it. They have a say in it. And that’s kind of what we set out to do.”
There are questions to address in the offseason, but third base (Hayes), catcher (Jacob Stallings), both corner outfield spots (Bryan Reynolds and Gregory Polanco) and first base (Josh Bell) are spoken for. There will be competition at second, shortstop and center field, competition that Shelton said won't stop at opening day.
Shelton is hoping for something close to a “normal” 2021 after spending his first season as a big league manager dealing with so much uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While he is still in the process of developing relationships with his players, he basically left them alone for the last 2 1/2 months, a reward of sorts following the mental and physical grind of 2020.
“I really personally wanted guys to go home and reflect and decompress because we didn’t go through a normal year,” he said. "I want them to come back in 2021 with a clear head and a clear mind.”
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