The one Islander who hasn’t been talked about enough for his strong play

Watch the Islanders’ overtime against the Bruins from Tuesday and you’ll notice something out of the ordinary: d-man Ryan Pulock out on the ice for over two-plus minutes. Usually in the 3-on-3 format, defenders aren’t supposed to be out for very long shifts so they can conserve energy. But there was Pulock, #6 in blue, riding out that stretch in just another example of why he’s played such a intricate role in the team’s success throughout this season.

Pulock hasn’t scored any goals to this point, which has left many dumbfounded because he’s got such a wicked shot. It’s in every other area of his game that has him trending further towards elite status.

“I want to chip in,” he said earlier this week. “But at the same time, if I look at my game and I’m honest with myself, I feel my game is in a really good spot. I’m playing pretty well and contributing to the success the team is having in other ways.”

The Manitoba native’s offensive side has shown out this year — ten assists in 26 games — but it’s the strides in Pulock’s defensive game, playing shutdown minutes with fellow No.1 D Adam Pelech, where he continues to progress. He’s already surpassed his average time on ice in his career playing a steady 22:28 this season. The proof is also how he’s been tasked to defend some of the best the East division has to offer. Even two nights ago, he and Pelech saw a heavy dose of “The Perfection Line” (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak), and while two of them got on the scoresheet on the man-advantage, they were relatively quiet at even strength.

Credit is due to Pulock, who for so long was always perceived as an offensive producer. He’s now a bonafide two-way defensemen and hasn’t even reached his prime yet.

The Isles committed to Pulock this offseason for two more seasons most likely with the aspirations of what they’re seeing from him now. Despite being without a goal on his ledger, that contract was terrific then and looks even better as the Islanders continue to roll.

Hopefully the goals will come for Pulock. He has already thrown 50 shots on goal through 26 games, the most for an Islander defender. It would be a reward for what has been an excellent campaign from him overall.

A lot of the fanfare this year has been around Mathew Barzal dazzling, Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom’s emergence, and the sensational goaltending the Isles have received. But Pulock, he’s just stayed in the background and been lights out this season.

You won’t hear his name in the Norris conversation and that shouldn’t matter. Pulock has found another level to his game.

That needs to be recognized as the Islanders aren’t having the success they do without his presence.

—

The Isles will welcome back fans to games this evening against New Jersey for the first time in 369 days. While it will only be a little over 1,000 people, they will be health care workers who have put their lives on the line since COVID-19 took over our reality at this time a year ago.

It should be a tremendous scene, and if the video the team released yesterday is any indication of what to expect, it will be an emotional night.

ESM EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: UCF cornerback prospect Tay Gowan speaks ahead of NFL Draft

The 2021 NFL Draft is just around the corner. This year there is a plethora of talented cornerbacks that could be drafted in the first two rounds. Tay Gowan is one underrated cornerback prospect that has been rising up draft boards with just a little more than a month left until the 2021 NFL Draft.

Tay Gowan is a 6-foot-2 cornerback out of UCF. He was a full-time starter in 2019 that opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Empire Sports Media was fortunate enough to speak with Tay Gowan on our podcast, Fireside Giants, hosted by myself, Anthony Rivardo, and my co-host, Alex Wilson. The link to watch the interview can be found here.

Q: What have you been doing this past year to stay in shape, get ready for the NFL, and what has been your preparation process?

So, with me opting out with my daughter being born early/prematurely, I focused on making sure my grades were good and getting my degree. I did a lot of training. I was not allowed on campus because I wasn’t in the COVID bubble anymore so I would train at my brother JK’s house which is like ten minutes from campus. He had a whole setup for me. He is actually starting a program called JK Elite Training. So he does a training program and he kept me in shape. We did some videos and stuff like that. Leading up to me coming down to Fort Lauderdale I would train with JK and just made sure I stayed in shape. And during that time period a lot of gyms were closed but I had to stay in shape so I had to be at his house a lot. I had to make sure the environment was safe so I could get back home to my daughter safely.

Q: One of the things you have that a lot of cornerbacks do not have is elite size. You’re six-foot-two and 185 pounds. What kind of advantages do you gain being a bigger cornerback?

Due to my size, I cover a lot of ground. If I do make a mistake at the line, because I am long and I have tremendous catch-up speed, my coach called it sneaky-speed but I don’t think it’s sneaky, I can cover ground, I can move my hips fluid. I don’t think guys at my size can do that how good I can do it. I have been down here elevating my game. I think the separation is me being able to move at my size and not being stiff. There is no stiffness in my game. I will show that April 1st.

Q: What do you project your forty-yard-dash time to be at your Pro Day?

I think I’m going to run a 4.29s or 4.30s flat. I tested down here at a 4.35s, it was my first time ever really running the forty. But me actually running the forty with the technique, I feel that April 1st that I’m going to have it down and adrenaline will be behind me, my angels will be behind me, I’m a big prayer and I think I’m going to shock a lot of people.

Q: This is the moment of your life. How important is this moment for you, who are you doing this for? What is the driving force behind the success you see in the future?

My driving force has always been my mother. I come from a small family. I dealt with a lot of trials and tribulations. For example, we’ve been homeless since I was in sixth grade. But recently I had my daughter so I think my daughter kind of jumped my mom a little bit. But those two are my driving forces. I’ve been playing football since I was five years old. I didn’t really get the opportunity to play when I was in high school, just due to moving around and stuff. So this moment means so much to me. I cry thinking about it. Like I could really do this for my family and set my family straight. And I could show the NFL that I am a ten-year guy, I’m a ten-year guy, straight up. I’m not going to come in here and bust, no doubt I’m going to stay and I’m going to work my ass off.

Q: In 2019, you were phenomenal at UCF. You allowed only 20 catches from 50 targets for 274 yards all season. Was there anything specific that you did in 2019 that helped you to have that breakout season?

I did a lot of praying with my guys like JK, Richie Grant. We did a lot of prayer. I’ve been praying all my life but I feel like I found God when I was in JUCO. Everyone finds God different. But I feel like that was my place to find God. I found God, I went into 2019 with God, and it showed.

Q: You have those driving forces, everything you’ve been through with your mom, your daughter. You have everything that it takes to be great because of everything you’ve been through. Going to JUCO. What did that mean in terms of making the transition from JUCO to 4-year college like UCF? How much did being at a JUCO school help your transition. How much did it give you that motivation and that confidence to be great?

It allowed me to grow as a player, tap into who I was and find myself. It allowed me to realize how badly I want to play football. A lot of people can go that JUCO route, but a lot of people can’t make it out of that JUCO route. So I feel like that was a driving force for me. Like I really do want this bad because I went down a road that most people won’t go or won’t even try.

Q: Half the battle is your mind. Do you see it that way? Do you think that mentality is 50% of the battle or even more or do you think that your physical traits will take you where you want to go?

No, I feel like you said it right on point. That mental aspect of the game is very important. I feel like I was being prepared for these kind of moments so the mental part is a big part of the game.

Q: Do you model your game after any cornerbacks in the NFL? Is there anyone you look at and say that’s who I want to be in the NFL?

I want to be myself. But I think Jalen Ramsey. I want to model my game after him. I feel like I am way faster than him and I have that body type to be that built and be that aggressive. So Jalen Ramsey would be my answer.

Q: Jalen Ramsey is one of the best man-coverage cornerbacks in the NFL. Is that how you see yourself? Do you think you fit better in a man-coverage scheme or would you be better playing in a zone-coverage scheme?

I’m a man-to-man corner. I want to follow your best receiver and I want to prove that I can do that. And zone is how I get most of my picks. So I love zone and I can do both. And I like to be in your face. I don’t really like to be in off-man, I want to be in your face. I like to use my length to my advantage. There are not too many reps where you will see me playing off, but I can do it. I want to let NFL teams know I can play off-man but I’d rather be in your face, disrupt your timing, and get my hands on the ball. Zone is fun for me because I’m going to get picks. Don’t put me in a zone or I’m gonna get picks.

Q: Let’s say you’re talking to an NFL scout and he asks, what are your three biggest strengths and what is your biggest weakness? Just to get an idea of how you see yourself as a player and where you need to grow.

I think my biggest weakness, looking at the 2019 film, I got sent on some blitzes. I feel like I could have bent the edge a little better or I could have came harder or my angle could have been better. I feel like I can be a corner blitzer, I want to add that to my game where I can sneak up and impact the backfield like that. I think one of my biggest strengths is being able to be a ballhawk. Like if you watch my JUCO film I had six picks. I’m catching all different kinds of picks in ways I don’t think most people can catch them. Then even my first game at FAU I did a toe-tap interception. I’m a ballhawk. When the ball is in the air, it’s mine.

Q: Let’s say you see Saquon Barkley coming around the edge. How confident are you against the run and coming up and tackling guys with thighs like tree trunks? How confident are you that you can come up and make a play on a guy like that? Do you feel like your technique is at a place where you can make a play like that at the NFL level?

I do feel I could tackle Saquon. I’m not ducking no smoke, I’m not ducking anybody. I only fear God so I’m not worried how big you are. I can say that, me being in the NFL, I will get better at tackling and I will get better with developing my body. I do not feel like tackling will be a problem. I want him to be more scared of me.

Q: Are you OK with working your way up through special teams and through the gauntlet and getting to a position and fighting for that opportunity, making your way up through the roster?

I just need an opportunity at the end of the day. Whether that’s special teams, whether that’s practice squad, whatever. I’m going to work my way up. I’m not going to be denied. So wherever they want to start me out at, I’m going to give the team my all. Because I feel like if you draft me and you believe in me and this is my new home, I’m going to do everything to make my new home a better place. I’m big on loyalty. So I’m going to be here for a minute and this is the team that belived in me. And I got an example for that. In my freshman year, I was supposed to get surgery as soon as I got there. I waited until my sixth game because I was getting first team looks, I was on the practice squad. So I pushed my surgery back to help the team. I’m not a selfish person at all.

Q: What separates you from other cornerbacks in this draft class? What would be your main selling point, why would a team want to draft you?

Because I’m going to shut a half side of the field down. Point blank period. I’m going to take all the stress of the coach. This side gonna be OK. I don’t know about the other side, but this side right here, it’s going to be OK. I promise you that.

Q: At the NFL level you’re going to be facing off against some incredible talent. Is there anything in your technique as a man-cover corner, things that you have to improve on? Or if they try to move you in the slot as you’re mirroring a number one receiver, is there anything in your game as a press corner that you think you can improve on? You’re going to face off against many different receivers, some are more physical, some are more agile. Anyone that you think might give you a harder time?

Well I think that part of it is going to be more about how much film I watch and how much I know what these type of guys are going to do. I don’t think any type of receiver is going to give me a problem like that. That’s just the confidence I have. Like I said, what they see on April 1st and to me first time getting on the field, it’s going to be two different people. So I feel like I’m just tapping into what I can really do. Because, mind you, my football career was really short so once I get my foot in the door and being able to train 24/7 and lock in how I know I can lock in, with no worries I don’t feel like anyone is going to give me a problem. But I’m not perfect. I will get caught wrong, but it’s going to be once in a blue moon.

Q: The draft is just over a month away. I’ve noticed and seen you shooting up draft charts. Pro Football Focus now has you as their number five cornerback in the class. Your name is being brought up more and more. How exciting is that, and how much confidence does that give you leading up to the NFL Draft.

Man it’s so exciting and it’s a blessing because I come from nothing. And I just come from hard work. I come from a place where nobody believed in me, nobody invested in me, nobody really thought I would be here and I just really bet on myself. I put everything on the line for myself. So it’s so exciting and I get so muhc motivation from my hometown, like ‘dang this man really beat all the odds against him.’ Even with the COVID situation. A lot of people, who would have though that I’d make that move for my family or who would’ve been selfish? It’s so exciting to answer your question. It’s so exciting.

Q: If there’s anything you want to tell an NFL team right now, what would it be?

I would want to let them know that when I came to UCF, I gave it my all. I didn’t start right away but I didn’t complain, I didn’t cry about it, even though I felt like I earned my position. An unfortunate situation happened and I stepped up. People that had been in that defense for a long time and knew everything, I stepped up right away. A lot of pressure was on me and I didn’t fold. A lot of people were worried that I wouldn’t step up into the role and I did and I saw the expectations. So I want to tell NFL teams, whether I’m a day one starter or later in the role starter, I’m going to step up and it’s going to be the best thing that happens to the team. Or one of the best things, I don’t want to make it all about me, but I’m gonna do my part.

New York Yankees: “Oh no, cuts are on the way”

New York Yankees, Aaron Boone

For all 75 New York Yankee players at spring training, cuts are coming as the team whittles down to just 26 roster players. As many as 75 of them have one thing in common they hope to make the club, but the reality is that most of them won’t and face an uncertain future. Some clubs have starting cutting players already; the Yankees have not. Manager Aaron Boone said he wasn’t sure how cuts would work, although the club runs a parallel spring camp with some pitchers off-site at the player development complex.

The dreaded cut has changed over the years; back in the day, a player would return to his locker and find a red tag on it. That was the unceremonial way they found out; they cleaned out their locker and left. Today the cut method is far less harsh. You might get a tap on the shoulder and be escorted into the manager’s office. There would likely be a coach or two present. Besides being cut, they are often instructed what skills to continue to develop. But the result is the same, here one day and gone the next. That’s almost 50 closed-door meetings, 50 reassuring conversations, 50 sets of marching orders, often with the feel of an old Alfred Hitchcock movie.

If it’s a Major Leaguer that is being cut, it’s a bit more complicated. GM Brian Cashman or assistant GM Jean Afterman would also be in on the meeting to answer questions and take abuse from the exiting player. Aside from wanting to make the team, players also want to delay being cut as long as possible. While in spring training, as long as they stay in major-league camp, they receive major-league meal allowances. For 2021, a New York Yankee player who doesn’t make his year-round home in the Tampa metroplex is entitled to a weekly allowance of $345.50, a supplemental weekly allowance of $61.50, a daily room allowance of $40, and a daily meal and tip allowance of $98. These may not be the exact amounts but are representative as each team is a bit different.

One oddity of the cut season is that players often can’t be found; they may be hiding, in the parking lot, or just not around. But they will be found. Some may be elusive on Mondays because that’s when many cuts are made to avoid another week’s stipend. For some players reassigned, there will be no place to go. Minor-league camps won’t open until April 1, after the major-league club departs to open the season.

Some players that are cut will be assigned to alternate sites; some will be cut with nowhere to go or will join the unemployment line. But there will be valid reasons for teams to reassign or option players in the coming days. One example: Players who are optioned on or before March 16 can continue to participate in exhibition games until the end of the spring. But if they haven’t been optioned by that date and sustain a disabling injury in an exhibition, teams would be forced to place them on the major-league injured list; and pay them a major-league salary.

As difficult as this is for managers, there is a flipside. They also get to hand out the good news to players, getting to tell a Double or Triple-A player that his dream has come true, and he would be able to stand on that chalk line on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.

Aleksandar Rakic believes he’s the new face of light heavyweight after UFC 259

This past Saturday at UFC 259, top four light heavyweight contenders kicked off the main card. Former title challenger Thiago Santos (21-9) took on Aleksandar Rakic (14-2). Both men were looking to take another step towards the UFC‘s light heavyweight title.

The expectation going into this fight was that it was going to be a fire fight. Both men possessed knockout power and both had highlight finishes inside the octagon. However, that isn’t the fight we got on Saturday night.

The fight was incredibly slow and featured Rakic just picking his shots from the outside. There were a few times where power shots were thrown, however, nothing serious ever landed. Neither man was in trouble at UFC 259.

In the end, Aleksandar Rakic had his hand raised by unanimous decision. After the fight was over, Rakic went over to Dana White’s table and told him that he was the new face of the UFC‘s light heavyweight division. Is that the case?

What’s next after UFC 259?

I will give Aleksandar Rakic this, he’s been sensational since joining the UFC. Since making his debut with the promotion back in 2017, Rakic has gone 6-1 inside the octagon. The only time he lost was to Volkan Oezdemir by split decision.

However, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of people believe that Rakic won the fight against Oezdemir. You could very well make the case that Rakic is unbeaten in the UFC. Rakic has all the makings of a future champion at 205.

He’s got the size, strength, and the skills to make it happen. We’ve seen him show off great kickboxing and we’ve also seen him show off decent skills on the ground. However, his last three fights have failed to wow fight fans.

With that, we know that Rakic is not getting the next UFC title shot. That shot belongs to Glover Teixeira. So with that, where does Rakic go from here? I think where we go from here is we look at the upcoming light heavyweight matchup in May.

Dominick Reyes and Jiri Prochazka will fight in May. Whoever wins that fight would matchup up perfectly with Rakic for a title eliminator. Based on rumblings in the background, it appears that the UFC is heading in this direction and that potential title eliminator should be a lot of fun to watch.

Yankees’ projected starters have all excelled in Spring Training

New York Yankees, Corey Kluber

The New York Yankees certainly gambled when they let Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ go through free agency. They were left with a bonafide ace, in Gerrit Cole, and lots of question marks. However, they recovered nicely and added Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber during the offseason after the calendar flipped to 2021.

Now, the Yankees’ pitching depth, as far as starters go, is Cole, Kluber, Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, Domingo German, Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Mike King, with other names potentially entering the conversation.

Schmidt is injured right now, but all the components of the projected top six right now, which is Cole – Kluber – Taillon – Montgomery – German – Garcia, are having a very good spring training as of Thursday morning, according to the stats.

The numbers love Yankees’ starters

The Yankees’ top six starters have pitched 21 innings so far in spring training action, and they hold a collective 1.71 ERA, with only four earned runs allowed, 15 hits, four walks, and a whopping 27 strikeouts. Talk about early dominance.

Not that spring training stats carry too much weight at the time of making analyses, but it’s always nice to see Yankees’ players succeed this early.

Surprisingly, German has been the best of the bunch, with no runs allowed through five frames, two hits, no walks, and seven punchouts.

Kluber has been perfect for two innings, with three strikeouts to his name, while Taillon hasn’t conceded runs in three frames and has a walk and five whiffs.

The Yankees have all their faith put in Garcia to be ready for a full season, and so far, he has looked good while tossing five innings with two runs conceded, no walks, and eight strikeouts.

Cole let in one run in his lone inning of work, while Monty also conceded one run in five frames.

Other potential options to start for the Yankees, such as Mike King and Nick Nelson, have also excelled.

Knicks News: Derrick Rose return in question, Mitchell Robinson injury update

New York Knicks, Derrick Rose

The New York Knicks are set to take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday evening, which should present a significant challenge. Milwaukee is coming off six wins over seven games, so they will be no easy contest for New York, who will be without starting point guard Derrick Rose, and his return is still up in the air for the remainder of this week.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau was skeptical that Rose would make a return within the next few days, but he’s confident that their youth can get the job done in the meantime. The league mandates that a player must be out for 10 days and then work out for an additional two days before returning from positive Covid tests. Luckily for Rose, the All-Star break gave him a good cushion to work off of, but he still has a bit more time to waste until he can make an official return.

“To be honest I can’t answer that because I don’t know,’’ Thibodeau said when asked if Rose would be returning to the team soon. “I’m following what Dr. [Lisa] Callahan and what the league says. Once there’s clearance he’ll be available. When we get updated, we’ll update you guys. You’ve seen it throughout the league how it’s been handled. We know it’s serious it is with COVID and we want to take every safety precaution we can.’’

How is Mitchell Robinson’s rehab coming along?

The Knicks expected starting Center Mitchell Robinson to be out for quite some time after fracturing his hand several weeks ago. It seemed as if he was making solid progress but is still ways away from a return. In his absence, Nerlens Noel has stepped up in a big way, averaging 4.9 points, 2.0 blocks, and 6.1 rebounds over 22.2 minutes. His defense has been the catalyst for New York at times but doesn’t offer much on offense.

“There’s still no set timetable,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s starting to do more. We’re probably a little ways away. But the conditioning, he’s been very diligent in putting extra work in. so his conditioning is pretty good. The basketball part, he hasn’t been able to scrimmage or anything like that. But he’s handling the ball with his left hand and doing a lot of running. We just have to be patient and let it run it’s course.’’

Luckily, Robinson will make a return at some point this year, and hopefully, the Knicks are in a spot to make a playoff push. Getting back one of their essential pieces will hopefully be a major boost, and we can only hope his rehabilitation goes well.

The New York Yankees have a beautiful problem brewing

New York Yankees, Domingo german

There’s no better problem in baseball than not knowing who will fill a starting spot in your pitching rotation because there are too many good options to choose from. Luckily, the New York Yankees are looking this problem in the face, as both Deivi Garcia and Domingo German have dominated in spring training thus far.

Both starters desperately want the fifth spot in the rotation, presenting an issue the Yankees haven’t experienced in quite some time. The starting rotation has been a major problem in recent years, especially with injuries arising and whatnot.

However, German is returning from an 81 game suspension due to a domestic violence case, and he isn’t letting his second opportunity go to waste. The last time he featured was in 2019 when he pitched 143 innings and earned 18 wins. He logged a 4.03 ERA showing that he could be an integral part of the rotation moving forward but missing all of 2020 surely stunted his development. Alas, it doesn’t seem as if German has missed a beat, hosting a 0.00 ERA over two appearances this spring. He also has seven strikeouts to show over 5.0 innings, allowing just two hits.

The Yankees have enough youngster pushing the folder:

On the other hand, Garcia is coming off his first action in the MLB last season. Over six games and 34.1 innings, he earned a 4.98 ERA. At just 21 years old, the Yankees have high hopes for Garcia and took him off the trade block, despite the fact the teams were calling to inquire about his services. Utilizing a nasty curveball and fastball that touches 92.3 mph, he has incredible potential, and I expect him to play a considerable amount this upcoming year.

Over two appearances the spring, Garcia has a 3.60 ERA, allowed two runs and four hits over 5.0 innings. He hasn’t been as efficient as German, but his last outing showed he’s capable of pitching at a high level. Against the Detroit Tigers, he struck out five batters over a 3.0 inning sample size. This position battle is becoming extremely intriguing, and the Yankees are lucky to have two players who are pushing each other to improve.

New York Yankees: Jameson Taillon on the road to a comeback

New York Yankees, Jameson Taillon

The New York Yankees this past Saturday got their first look at Jameson Taillon in a starting role for the team. For Taillon, it was a 47 mile trip down memory lane. He was traveling south on Interstate 75 to LECOM Park, his old training ground when he pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That was then and this is now, that day he was doing it in Yankee pinstripes for the first time to face his former team. The Yankees were happy with what they saw in his two-inning start.

He pitched two scoreless innings for the Yankees. Earlier he pitched one inning of relief. In his two games, he has not allowed a run while striking out five across three innings of work. It’s a small sample but it is encouraging. Taillon was traded to the Yankees for four decent prospects late in the offseason. The Yankees took a risk on a pitcher that has had two Tommy John surgeries, but so far he looks healthy. At the best the Yankees hope he is an ace in the making, at the worst, they hope he can adequately replace the departed Masahiro Tanaka.

Taillon could be a big boost to the New York Yankees rotation and probably will start in the number 3 spot behind Gerrit Cole and Corey Kluber. Taillon brings another look to the rotation with an entirely different pitching style. If successful, it could give the Yankees a one, two, three punch at the top of the rotation that opponents will fear. In 2019, he relied primarily on his Slider (89mph), Fourseam Fastball (95mph), and Sinker (95mph), also mixing in a Curve (83mph) and Change (89mph). … His curve is much harder than usual and has a sharp downward bite—Taillon’s pitching results in many ground balls that fit Yankee Stadium nicely.

Frustrated by a second Tommy John surgery, the Yankees’ newest starter worked with a “village” of experts to revamp his delivery. He is ready to display it on day one with the New York Yankees. Let’s look at the journey that has led him to the Yankees.

Jameson Lee Taillon is 29 years old, born on November 18, 1991. He is a Canadian/American citizen, but he was born in Lakeland, Florida. His family moved to Texas, where the tall young man attended Woodlands High School in Woodland. He played baseball for the Highlanders. It was there that he got the attention of Pittsburgh Pirates scouts with his 22-6 record. In his senior year at Woodland, he threw a no-hitter, striking out 19 hitters. His 2010 senior record was 8-1.

Out of high school, Taillon signed a letter of intent to attend college but was drafted in the Pirates’ in the first round. Just hours before the deadline, he did choose the Pirates over Rice University for a $6.5 million signing bonus, the second-highest bonus in draft history at the time. Taillon made his professional debut on April 27, 2011. He joined the team on April 24 after staying in Florida for an extended spring training assignment. He spent the season with the West Virginia Power, going 2–3 with a 3.98 ERA in 23 starts.

Taillon was named to appear in the 2012All-Star Futures Game. He started the 2012 season with the Marauders but was quickly promoted to the Altoona Curve. In August, he was named the Eastern League pitcher of the week. In 26 starts between the two teams, he was 9-8 with a 3.55 ERA. He was promoted to the Indianapolis Indians, but after the season, he had his first Tommy John surgery to repair a UCL of the elbow, causing him to miss the entire 2014 season. He also missed the 2015 season with a sports hernia.

During 2016 Taillon spent his time between the Pirates and the minors going back and forth. He made his Major League Debut after 10 starts in the minors. Taillon went 4–2 with a 2.04 ERA, striking out 61 in 61.2 innings and walking only 6. In another Pirate’s start, he faced Noah Syndergaard; Taillon threw 6 innings, giving up 3 runs on 6 hits, 2 walks, and 3 strikeouts, not receiving a decision in the eventual 6–5 loss. In his second start against the Mets, he threw 8 scoreless innings, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh before former Yankees Curtis Granderson broke it up, recording his first win in the 4–0 victory. He spent the remainder of 2016 with Pittsburgh. In 18 starts, he compiled a 5–4 record and 3.38 ERA.

In 2017 he was in the Pirate’s starting rotation, but he underwent surgery for testicular cancer in May. After just a few weeks, he was back with the club and finished the season with 25 starts; he had an 8–7 record and 4.44 ERA. He pitched the entire 2018 season uninjured with a 3.20 ERA in 32 starts. His 2019 season was cut short when he required his second Tommy John surgery. He did not pitch in 2020 while rehabbing.

New York Yankees General manager Brian Cashman has a history of taking chances on previously injured players, as he has already done with Corey Kluber. In a worst-case scenario, both of these pitchers will be average pitchers, but there is also an excellent chance that they excel for the Yankees and prove their worth with minor investment.  This will give the Yankees a whole season to evaluate Domingo German and Luis Severino’s returning pitchers and further develop prospects Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King.

At just 29 years old, Taillon is a 6-foot-5, 230-pound pitcher. He primarily utilizes a fastball that can top out at 98 mph, sinker, slider, and a circle curveball. He gets an impressive 50% ground ball rate, which plays well at Yankee Stadium. Taillon is not the pitcher in 2019; he has developed a new delivery to take the strain off his arm by using his hip more efficiently in his delivery.

“I kind of had like a coming-to-grips moment where I said, ‘My current set of mechanics and what I’m doing isn’t working,’” he said in a conference call with reporters. “That’s just the cold, hard truth. I need to change something or else my career is going to be over.”

Taillon has accomplished that working with the training staff, coaches, and a visit to the Florida Baseball Ranch, a facility in Lakeland, Fla., that uses diagnostics to improve health and performance. Over time, the pitcher refashioned his windup and delivery. Taillon declared that he was healthy and would be ready for spring training, whenever it starts. He has been throwing off a mound with the goal of preparation, not rehabilitation.

Taillon said that he now had more spin on his fastball and that his cut fastball had evolved into more of a true slider. He still relies on a sloping curveball, having discovered a comfortable grip on his evolving changeup, which gives him the potential for at least five pitches. Taillon has the ability to become a true ace. The New York Yankees have control of him through the 2022 season.

What’s next for Thiago Santos after another loss at UFC 259?

This past Saturday at UFC 259, former title challenger and top light heavyweight, Thiago Santos (21-9), returned to action. He took on fellow top light heavyweight contender, Aleksandar Rakic (14-2), to kick off the PPV main card.

For Santos, this was his second fight back since recovering from knee surgery. Santos had the opportunity of a lifetime when he earned a title shot against Jon Jones at UFC 239. However, the fight went very wrong very early on.

Early in the fight, Santos completely tore his knee apart. With the injury, Santos wasn’t able to explode and do the damage that he’s normally capable of doing. Somehow, Santos still fought the all time great to a split decision back in 2019.

After the fight, Santos had to have major reconstructive surgery to repair the damage in he knee. After about 17 months away, Santos returned last November to take on Glover Teixeira. At first, it looked like Santos was going to get back to normal.

Santos dropped Teixeira and looked like he was going to return to be the force in the UFC‘s light heavyweight division that he was before the knee injury. He ended up dropping Teixeira twice in their matchup, but ultimately gassed out and was submitted.

He turned right around to face Rakic at UFC 259. One thing I did notice in the Teixeira fight is that Santos didn’t quite have the same explosion that he did prior to the injury. This is something I also noticed a lot in the Rakic fight.

What’s Santos’ UFC future?

There was just no explosion from Santos on Saturday night. To me, it was clear that he had the power and the speed advantage at UFC 259. In the past, we’ve seen Santos explode forward to overcome range disadvantages. However, he couldn’t do that on Saturday.

He was always too far away and couldn’t get anything going. As a result, he was outpointed and he lost his third consecutive fight. Santos is still ranked fourth in the UFC’s light heavyweight rankings, but where does he go from here?

To me, Santos needs a reset. He needs to fight someone in the top ten that’s in a similar position, but it needs to be a winnable fight. Personally, I love the idea of Santos taken on another former title challenger in Volkan Oezdemir (17-5) next.

We haven’t seen Oezdemir compete inside the octagon since his knockout loss at UFC 251 back in July. Both men are former title challengers, but they’re also top ten light heavyweights needing to bounce back. Seems like a great time for the UFC to pair these two up.

Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone announces plan to replace Zack Britton in the late innings

New York Yankees, Aaron Boone

New York Yankees’ left-handed reliever Zack Britton is set to undergo surgery to remove bone chips from his left (pitching) elbow, after experiencing some soreness this week after a bullpen session and going for an MRI.

The MRI showed the bone spurs, and the team announced he needs surgery that will knock him out of action for at least a couple of months. He will need rest for approximately six weeks, perhaps more, and after that, he needs to enter a throwing program to ramp up his progression and get himself ready to face major league hitters. It could be May or June until we see the Yankees’ most dependable reliever again.

The Yankees, however, need to replace his late-inning prowess. We are talking about a guy that had a 1.89 ERA last season and filled in admirably for Aroldis Chapman as the closer while he was away from the club last year.

The Yankees will go with a set-up by committee

According to Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone, setup duties will be handled by committee, and the first opportunities will be given to Chad Green, Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson.

“It will probably be more matchup-related about what we have on a given day from a usage standpoint,” Boone said on Wednesday to MLB.com. “We’re trying to put guys in the best matchups possible to be successful, so I would say that sixth, seventh and eighth inning will be very fluid throughout this process.”

Britton is convinced he will return this season to help the Yankees. “Somebody is going to get an opportunity now to pitch some important innings for us,” the pitcher said. “Hopefully, they run with it. I’m hopeful that whoever steps into my role is going to do a great job, and I can concentrate on getting back to the level I want to be back, whenever that is.”

Boone explained that Britton’s absence doesn’t mean he will necessarily have to carry an additional lefty in the bullpen, as Chapman and Wilson are both southpaws. And he also said righty Jonathan Loaisiga’s responsibilities could increase.

“Zack Britton is as elite a reliever as we’ve had over the last five to 10 years, so it’s a blow to lose a guy of his caliber,” Boone said. “That being said, we have a lot of confidence in the people that we do have and the opportunities that this will create until Zack is back. I feel really good about how we’ll be able to navigate it.”