TORONTO — Eric Pardinho first arrived on the national baseball scene as a 15-year-old, called upon by his home country as a teenager in a World Baseball Classic qualifier in New York five years ago and asked to get grown men out.
Featuring a mid-90s fastball, he did just that, and a new, mysterious Brazilian star was born.
Who was this 5-foot-10 kid with not only terrific stuff but also an advanced idea of what he was doing on the mound at such a young age?
Less than a year later, the Toronto Blue Jays handed him $1.4 million to have the chance to harness that obvious natural talent.
Now, three-and-a-half years after entering the organization, Pardinho has experienced some of the ups and downs that tend to come along with the long journey of trying to make the major leagues.
Since debuting at rookie level Bluefield in the Appalachian League in the summer of 2018, Pardinho has done nothing but get results.
Across 87.2 innings in his first two pro seasons, including a seven start full season debut at Low-A Lansing in 2019, Pardinho has posted a 2.57 ERA, limiting the damage to just 67 hits and striking out 99.
A reminder of what he did on the national stage pitching for his country, Pardinho has simply looked more advanced than the majority of the hitters he’s faced in the low minors.
But the one speed bump every pitcher hopes to avoid in their career slowed Pardinho’s ascent last spring, putting an early end to what some expected to be a breakout season in 2020.
After feeling discomfort in his elbow last February, an MRI revealed Pardinho’s UCL had significant damage and Tommy John surgery was recommended.
His season was over before it even began.
Now, a year later, having just turned 20 years old in January, Pardinho is on his way back.
The hope within the organization is better than ever, too, now that a procedure that’s become commonplace for pitchers is out of the way.
“The surgery was like a fresh start for me,” Pardinho said through family translator Caio Parente. “I was already mentally prepared because I knew it was the best thing to do. I was a little nervous because it was going to be my first surgery, so I didn't know how I would feel and how I would be after the surgery. The only thing I knew was that it was going to be a long process of recovery.”
As pitchers and catchers filed into Dunedin this week, Pardinho was already there, working.
Due to the pandemic and the focus on rehab, Pardinho hasn’t been back home to Brazil in more than a year.
He feels the separation from his family and the adversity of the elbow injury have helped him grow.
“I've been in Dunedin all this time, all of 2020 and 2021 in Florida at the hotel — I didn't go back to Brazil,” Pardinho said. “Me, my parents and the club decided that it would be better to stay here in Dunedin to continue with the rehab program. And that was very important for me because I was able to continue my program and that would be a little difficult to do in Brazil. Again, the Blue Jays gave all the support I needed. If I travelled back to Brazil, I will be stuck there until now and the baseball infrastructure is not the same over there.
“It was a time to get a bigger maturity for me, with the distance from the baseball fields, my teammates and my family, who could not visit me and are still in Brazil because of the pandemic,” he added. “There were many learnings but I believe that the most important part was to maintain focus and mental balance to take better care of my body and fitness. I improved a lot in the part of my diet, nutrition and mentally. These things were fundamental to my evolution, the mental balance and how to maximize my recovery taking care of my body with exercises and a better diet.”
Like many pitchers, no matter what stage of their career they’re at, the 12-14 month TJ recovery period allows them to focus on other things.
A handful return throwing harder because of the time they have to work on their bodies in the weight room and focus on the details.
Now in the final stages of recovery, Pardinho is eager to see how all of his work translates.
“I think the answer will come when I come back to the mound, but with all the things I've been doing and trying to be better and better as an athlete since I had the surgery, focused just on my recovery, far from home to reach my goals, keeping confidence I am certainly on the right way to be a better pitcher,” Pardinho said.
“I'm very excited to be back. I can't wait to go back and pitch again in official games. Every day when I think I'm getting closer and closer to that moment, it helps me to give my best in every workout and practice.”
The Blue Jays will be careful with their $1.4 million Brazilian bonus baby.
As they should.
There’s no need to rush him and he could be worth the wait.
Once Pardinho gets back into minor league games and shakes off the rust, he could move quickly, too.
The club’s 37-year-old director of pitching development, Matt Buschmann, who also doubles as the big-league bullpen coach, hasn’t laid eyes on a healthy Pardinho since he was a player, in camp on a minor-league deal with the Jays back in 2017.
“Actually, the only time I’ve seen him throw a bullpen live and in person healthy was in 2017 when I was still playing,” Buschmann laughed. “I was in spring training in ’17 and I wanna say he was 16 at the time and he had the most beautiful delivery I’ve ever seen and it blew my mind that he was that young. I haven’t really seen it, so I’m really excited.”
Pardinho, who threw an easy bullpen Friday in Dunedin, his first since the surgery, hopes to be ready for game action in a couple months.
“The expectation of pitching in game again would be in May,” Pardinho said. “My next steps are to come back pitching with a healthy body, improve my fitness and have good numbers during the 2021 season.”
The numbers this year won’t matter much to people within the organization. Many just can’t wait to see him get on a mound again and see where things go.
It’s been a unique rehab process and the Jays have been impressed.
“The biggest thing is you just root for the kid and what he’s had to go through with the pandemic, I mean, he’s been chilling at the Clarion (hotel), basically, for so long and he’s kind of put in this work and hasn’t probably been home as much as he’s wanted to,” Buschmann said. “Add all that up and just seeing him put the work in, you just want him to get back.”