Aaron Taylor: Ding Dong, the DL is Dead

InsidethePark.com's Joe Ruiz sat down with reliever Aaron Taylor and asked all the questions of his rehab stint, his new team in San Antonio, and his future in the organziation. Catch the scoop on Taylor's comeback right here.

RHP Aaron Taylor's been to The Show.

He's worn the Seattle Mariners uniform and pitched at Safeco Field. To play there is what keeps the current crop of T-Rats, Rainiers, 66ers, Missions and AquaSox and the rookie league Mariners working as hard as they do.

Right now, Taylor must do it all over again.

After off-season surgery on his right rotator-cuff, pitching at 96 miles per hour is painful for Taylor. So much so that he is currently limited to hitting the low 90s and finding his spots, rather than blowing it by batters. For 26-year-old Taylor, this is the opportunity to become a better pitcher and hopefully one day claim a spot as the Mariners closer.

"It (the injury) has made me change a lot of my game. Instead of going up inside and running fastballs by, I'm trying to hit a spot now," said Taylor prior to Monday's Missions game. "It was something I should have learned a long time ago. Hopefully, when this all comes back and I'm throwing 95, 96 again and I'm hitting spots, it makes me that much better of a pitcher."

Currently, Taylor's goal is to pitch for two innings straight. In his last outing on July 3rd, he pitched 1.2 innings and allowed only one hit while striking out one batter. In Frisco on June 30th, he struck out the side in his one inning of work.

Following the series in Frisco, Taylor completed his major league rehabilitation assignment and was optioned to San Antonio. Even though Taylor technically was a San Antonio Mission since June 6th, the feeling's different until you're "one of the guys".

"It's really good that you're on a team. You know, you're part of the team because you're down here in the bullpen, but not really part of the team," said the six-foot, eight-inch righty. "Now, I'm a part of the guys winning these games. Before, it was a little bit of a difference between me and them because I was on my own program, but now, I'm just a San Antonio Mission. That takes the pressure off of you and makes me feel like I'm a part of something."

The 2004 season is not Taylor's first stint as a member of the Alamo City twenty-three, in 2002, Taylor went 4-3 in 62 games for the Missions and saving 24. In that season, the first of their current defense of the Texas League back-to-back championships, San Antonio did not finish the first half the way anybody expected, much the same as the current campaign. The Missions finished dead last in the Texas League's West Division with a record of 25-45 in the first half.

That team nearly reversed its record in the second half (43-27) on its climb to the Texas League Championship.

Today, Taylor is bringing that experience from 2002 to this crop of players.

"We talk about the 2002 season. It was one of the best seasons I've ever had in baseball. We went worst-to-first," said Taylor. "We couldn't win a game. That's the same thing this team had. They had a brutal first half and now they're seeing the plate, we're pitching the ball better and we're back in it."

"They understand that we're playing for something now. When you're 15 games out in the first half, it's disheartening. You don't even want to come to the park, but when you're winning, you're seeing that the first half makes you a better person for the second half," said Taylor.

Not only does the tall Georgian tell tales of seasons past, he can be seen passing out advice to his fellow players. For 20 minutes prior to the interview, Taylor and RHP Chris Buglovsky sat in the bullpen talking about grips, legwork and positioning. The major league experience Taylor brings to a squad of young arms not only helps the rest of the team, but Taylor himself.

"We were trying to figure out some things," Taylor said of his talk with Buglovsky. "I tell them, 'I can't show you on the mound because I'm trying to figure me out, but I can tell you how to be successful'. We've got hitters uncomfortable in the box where before everybody on the team had high ERA's because they're trying to go to the soft area first. They're throwing fastballs away which are hitting barrel heads for long shots."

"Now, we're going in and we've got people uncomfortable and I think that benefits everyone."

After reaching his two innings, Taylor's next goal is to pitch on back-to-back nights. He feels that by accomplishing that with no problems in the days following, it becomes a little bit easier to return to the closer role he so relishes.

"That'll be a real tell-tale sign of how the shoulder's healing up," said Taylor. "Basically, when you go through a surgery like this, you've got the scar tissue that's got to tear and your muscles aren't as strong as they used to be and stuff tightens up on you overnight."

"I'll be ready to maybe get back into more of my role as a closer. (RHP Rick) Guttormson's been closing these games out awesome here, but I still feel like that's something I want to do down the line. That's a goal of mine. I don't want to take his job and that's not what I'm saying, I just really feel like that's something I've got to do and get the mentality of closing games out. I'm never going to be a starter."

The comment about not being a starting pitcher is one that Taylor likes to laugh about. He's comfortable and enjoys the high-pressure situation of being a closing pitcher. Taylor also enjoys having a little fun every now and then.

He can be seen joking with teammates, fans and even reporters on a nightly basis. In fact, InsideThePark.com has acquired the photo Taylor insisted on using for his autograph card.

Keeping a light heart and the work he puts in, Taylor has primed himself for at least the chance to return to the promise land, in the role he seeks and at the ability he originally demonstrated before his surgery. But first, he hopes to go two tonight.

Joe Ruiz welcomes your comments and questions regarding the San Antonio Missions. Reader's questions are what prompted this story. Joe can be reached at joeruiz@insidethepark.com and will attempt to reply to all inquires.

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