VIERA, Fla. — This time last year, Taylor Jordan arrived at Space Coast Stadium with high hopes and his sights set on winning the No. 5 spot in Washington’s starting rotation.
This year, things are a little bit different.
After navigating two major injuries last year, Jordan said he’s entering spring training this year as a stronger, healthier version of his 2014 self. Unfortunately for the 26-year-old, the circumstances around him have also changed. With Tanner Roark’s success last season and the arrival of Max Scherzer, Jordan’s chances of winning a major-league job in 2015 are slim to none, so Jordan is focusing only on the thing that slowed him last year: his health.
“Being healthy is the first thing on my list, and then staying healthy,” Jordan said Sunday. “I’m going to perform. If I’m healthy, I’m going to perform. So, just staying healthy is the name of the game.”
After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011, Jordan made a promising major-league debut in 2013, posting a 3.66 ERA in nine starts toward the end of the season. A few months later, however, he broke his right ankle while climbing out of a pool. Doctors inserted a metal plate and several screws to hold the bones in place. His right ankle was in a cast for a month.
The injury prevented Jordan from preparing for spring training as rigorously as he would have liked and put him at an immediate disadvantage.
“Last year I didn’t come into spring training like I really wanted to,” he said. “I wasn’t as strong as I am now, or in the year before that. It only makes sense that’s why I couldn’t stay healthy last year.”
Jordan still managed to have a relatively successful spring, earning a spot in the rotation at the beginning of the season in part because of an injury to Doug Fister. When he returned to a major-league mound, however, his velocity was down and he struggled because of it. After five starts, he was relegated to Triple-A Syracuse.
Jordan pitched for another month but continued to struggle. He left a start with right elbow soreness, was placed on the 60-day disabled list and then had surgery to remove bone chips from the elbow.
“Just constant soreness,” he said of the injury. “Every time I would go out there, towards the fourth, fifth inning it would just really tighten up on me. So eventually we dealt with it, and I haven’t had a single issue that resembled that this year. So everything’s going great.”
Jordan believes the two injuries were related. He said the injury to his right ankle, which he uses to push off the rubber, forced him to alter his mechanics and put more stress on his surgically-repaired elbow and led to the soreness.
The right-hander threw his first official bullpen session Sunday. Manager Matt Williams said the team will continue to monitor Jordan’s health this spring.
“He’s completely prepared,” Williams said. “So if we asked him to go out and throw two or three innings tomorrow or the next day, he probably could. That’s a good thing. That being said, we have to be mindful of his health and how he’s feeling going through this. But he looked great today.”
Jordan said the injuries caused him to make a few changes in his offseason preparation this year. He added more protein and vegetables to his diet and put an additional emphasis on rest. He was also able to work out more regularly, putting him in better overall shape entering this season.
Jordan hopes those changes will help him turn the page on a 2014 season that he described in only one word: disappointing.
“I couldn’t stay healthy, and that’s basically it,” he said. “I was trying my hardest to stay healthy, and it just wasn’t happening.”