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Jameson Taillon feels 'refreshed' to start year 2 with the Cubs

Ryan Herrera Avatar
February 16, 2024

MESA, Ariz. — Jameson Taillon never shied away from discussing his struggles last season.

For essentially the entire first half of the year, Taillon just couldn’t find success on the mound consistently. From his first start on April 2 through his 14th start exactly three months later, Taillon had what would’ve been a career-worst 6.93 ERA while allowing home runs at a career-high rate (1.8 HR/9) and posting a career-worst 1.52 WHIP.

There were some flashes of the Taillon that earned a four-year, $68 million contract before heading into 2023, but there just wasn’t any consistency from start to start. And while Taillon was often willing to immediately discuss after bad starts what went wrong in that single game, in a more zoomed-out view of the situation, he may have just needed time to adjust to his new environment.

“For me, when I got traded to [the Yankees in 2021], it took me a little while to adjust, and then last year, it took me a little while,” Taillon said Friday in the clubhouse at the Cubs’ spring training complex. “Ideally, you don’t need to adjust, because you know exactly what it takes every time you’re out there. But there’s a human element to it. Being comfortable around your teammates and getting to know your catchers and teammates and stuff. Everyone’s different, but unfortunately for me, I feel like it did take a quick adjustment period.”

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy was there every step of the way during that stretch.

The pitching group continued to help him work through mechanical issues — likely stemming in part from adding a sweeper to his arsenal during the offseason — which Hottovy noticed were “not consistent with what we had seen Jamo do in the past.” But even while he continued to struggle during games, Taillon was constantly working behind the scenes to fix those issues.

“To Jamo’s credit,” Hottovy said recently on the CHGO Cubs Podcast, “and not many guys can do this, he was working his tail off trying to accomplish mechanical things early in the year knowing that it was going to help him down the road — while struggling at the major league level, the contract you just signed and a team that’s trying to win right now.”

Taillon was physically trying to get himself right, and the mental side of things had be wearing on him, too. But he also found ways to get himself through that period.

“I felt like I was able to just be accountable for the struggles, still be a good teammate, show up and treat everyone the same, still root on everyone,” Taillon said. “I feel like when you do that, it’s easier to get out of yourself and get out of that selfish mindset and just start rooting on your teammates. And then, just understanding that it’s gonna turn at some point.”

From about midseason on, Taillon seemed to find his form.

He tossed eight one-hit, shutout innings at Yankee Stadium going into the break, and then he managed to put together a second half more reminiscent of the Taillon the Cubs believed they’d signed.

Across his final 16 appearances (15 starts), Taillon posted a much-improved 3.38 ERA and had 1.10 WHIP (which would’ve been a career best over a full season).

It was the kind of second half that proved what he did behind the scenes was working. Did he dominate every outing? No. Were there still a couple of rough starts in that stretch? Yes. But he showed a whole lot more consistency on the mound than he did the first three months of the year.

“At the time, [the struggles are] hard, because you’re in it, you’re living it,” Hottovy said. “But then at the end, you see the success he had that second half of the season. Again, credit to the work he was able to put in to identify what he needed to work on, and then trust the process of getting it done as the year went on.”

So how has Taillon used this offseason to build off his second half?

He said he’d already processed all the bad throughout the season, so the beginning of the winter was about processing the good to “try to figure out what exactly turned my season around.”

Hottovy and assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos had him do different drills, in part to get his arm stroke more compact. Taillon felt his arm path lengthened out at times last season, which impacted his four-seamer’s shape and deception, so he focused on making the path more compact, athletic and connected.

Taillon is also feeling more comfortable with the sweeper. When he was incorporating it into his game a year ago, he said it still felt like he was figuring out how to throw it for a while. Hottovy also noted that adding the sweeper probably affected the rest of his pitches — “In a very, very small world do you add a pitch and everything else stays the same,” he said — but now a year later, Taillon believes he’s in a much better spot with the pitch.

The second half of 2023 was a boost to Taillon’s confidence, showing him that he could make the adjustments and rediscover what had made him good in the past. Now, after a full year of going through the process and a full winter of work, he’s ready to attack season No. 2 in Chicago.

“I feel, honestly, refreshed,” Taillon said. “I feel like it was a really productive offseason. I’ve been here since about Christmas time, working with the strength coaches, sending videos to the pitching coaches, just using the facilities here and stuff. I was ready to go.”

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