PHILADELPHIA — Jameson Taillon, of all people, symbolizes these 2021 Yankees:
Big hype, small results.
The Yankees fought their way out of an early hole Saturday afternoon, DJ LeMahieu delivering a huge, game-tying, three-run homer in the ninth inning off Hector Neris, only to lose to Joe Girardi’s Phillies, 8-7, in the 10th at Citizens Bank Park when Jean Segura’s infield single scored ghost runner Ronald Torreyes (yes, him). Losers of two straight and 12 of 17, a season-worst 7 ½ games behind the Rays in the American League East, the Yankees (33-31) get no points for fight, not at this stage of the season.
Similarly, Taillon receives no reprieve for his loss-turned-no-decision, not after the right-hander recorded one measly out before departing, putting his team in a 4-0 hole that could have been even worse if not for some nifty relief work by Nestor Cortes.
“It’s embarrassing. Humiliating,” Taillon said afterward. “Tough day at the office for sure.”
The two-time Tommy John surgery recipient now owns a ghastly 5.74 ERA, and on the same day that Luis Severino left his minor league start early with a right groin injury, the turn of events reflected poorly upon the Yankees’ “Let’s bring in four starting pitchers who combined to throw one inning in 2020” strategy for this season.
Corey Kluber, the guy who threw that one inning, wins the silver medal of that quartet, compiling a 3.04 ERA (including a May 19 no-hitter) in 10 starts totaling 53 ¹/₃ innings — and he’s on the 60-day injured list with a bum right shoulder and will return no earlier than late July. Domingo German, the king of this group, will take a 3.12 ERA into his start here Sunday as the Yankees attempt to salvage a series split.
While Severino had been on track for a July return from his February 2020 Tommy John surgery before Saturday’s setback, Taillon has been a work in progress, getting regular reps for an all-in major league team. At times, those reps have brought some encouragement, and those who look under the hood can note that Taillon’s 58 strikeouts against 17 walks marks something on which the right-hander can hang his hat. That’s not enough, however, for the Yankees to hang their hopes that the 29-year-old, under team control through next year after coming over in a January trade with the Pirates, will figure things out in time to be valuable.
If you watch Taillon’s starts regularly, you know he’s not a comfortable watch, his decent peripherals notwithstanding. More than anything, he doesn’t put guys away enough. Of the seven batters he faced on Saturday, he accrued two strikes on three of them. All three of those gentlemen — Segura, J.T. Realmuto and Alec Bohm — managed to notch base hits. Segura fouled off five straight pitches at 0-and-1 before punching his single to right field. For the season, when Taillon reaches two strikes on a hitter, they have a slash line of 233/.282/.338 against him … which might not sound terrible, until you see that the overall AL line, through Friday’s action, was .167/.242/.270.
“They kept fouling pitches off,” Aaron Boone acknowledged of the Phillies’ hitters against Taillon. “I don’t think he gave them enough different looks within at-bats to get them to expand on a breaking ball and they were able to gather some hits on some two-strike situations where I don’t think they were very uncomfortable out there.”
“It’s definitely been kind of the theme of the year for me,” Taillon acknowledged. He added that he thought opponents were fouling off pitches they didn’t like in order to wait for the high fastball. The prescription, he added, could be improving his curveball against righty hitters and his slider against lefty hitters, making him less predictable.
He refused to use his recent medical history as an excuse, even as he said that others offered to do that for him.
“I wouldn’t say it has anything to do with my elbow,” he said. “If anything, I should be throwing better because I feel better than I have in a long time.”
Whether he can bring his results closer to that feel, to his underlying counts, will help determine whether these Yankees, such a disappointment so far, ever catch up to their hype.