TORONTO — It’s clear Nate Pearson is going to contribute in the big leagues this season.
His ultimate role with the Toronto Blue Jays, however, is completely up for debate at this point, simply because it’s evident there’s a lot of refinement needed in order to find success against big-league bats.
Over a 20.1 inning sample size now since his debut last July, Pearson has walked 18 batters.
That’s obviously not going to give him a chance to succeed.
In fact, it’s hard to find something good to say about Pearson’s start Sunday against the Houston Astros, admittedly a tough lineup for any pitcher to go through.
Across 64 pitches, Pearson got just one swing-and-miss.
That came on his fastball, a pitch that averaged just 95.7 mph and topped out at 98.2, a couple miles off what Pearson is capable of on his best day.
He walked five, didn’t strike anyone out, and was done after just 2.1 innings, leaving manager Charlie Montoyo to turn to his bullpen. Again.
“Obviously, he didn’t do what we expected from him,” Montoyo said simply. “He couldn’t find his release point, so he struggled the whole time.
“He needs to be more around the zone. But he knows that. And he'll be fine. You know, the one thing about prospects, sometimes it takes a little bit longer for some people. Sometimes, it's quick. We've just got to be patient.”
Despite the hype and the obvious high-octane stuff, it’s definitely looking like patience will be a virtue when it comes to Pearson, and it may not be a direct route from top prospect to top-of-the-rotation starter.
So where do things go from here?
Even with a clear need in the rotation, Montoyo didn’t commit to another start in five days for Pearson.
But even with how he looked against the Astros, the allure of Pearson right now is the upside every fifth day of the potential for things to click for five or six dominant frames.
While an expected innings limit at some point — this won’t matter at all if he can’t pitch deep into games — and the command issues are conspiring to make the bullpen a short-term option in 2021, the best thing for Pearson might be an extended run of starts at Triple-A Buffalo.
Inconsistent command very rarely irons itself out against big-league hitters and Pearson needs to pitch and find that all-important rhythm, something injuries and pandemics have made problematic.
The minor leagues is the best place to do that, but the issue is the Jays have already used an MLB-high 12 starting pitchers this season, one more than the division-rival Tampa Bay Rays, and the situation may lead to Pearson sticking in the rotation until there’s a better alternative.
“We've just got to assess over the next day or two to see what the next start is gonna look like,” Montoyo said.
For the front office, figuring out what Pearson can give this pitching staff down the stretch is important because his ultimate role and usage might change their priorities at the July 30 trade deadline.
Behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and maybe the bullpen as a whole, Randal Grichuk has been the most valuable player on this Blue Jays team over the first six weeks or so. Not only has the 29-year-old outfielder been contributing day in, day out with both the glove and bat, but Grichuk’s underlying numbers show he’s continuing to cut down on the swing-and-miss with a career-low 17.6 strikeout rate, which is down from the previous career-low he set last season at 21.2 per cent … The gloves have been an issue from time to time since last season, but the Jays have started to clean things up it seems. After committing 15 errors in their first 20 games, the Jays have made just three in their last 13 and the club’s fielding percentage is the best in baseball since April 25 … Cavan Biggio hit his first homer in Minute Maid Park over the weekend, leaving him just 78 back of his father, Craig, for bombs in that ballpark. Oddly, the elder Biggio’s 79-career home runs there ties him with Cavan’s now-teammate, George Springer … Marcus Semien leads all major-league second basemen in home runs this season with eight. Already at six steals, too, the 30-year-old is on close to a 30/30 pace … Following a day off Monday, Montoyo is planning to roll out a rotation of Robbie Ray, Hyun Jin Ryu and Ross Stripling, in that order, against the Braves in Atlanta … Key Jays arms currently on the injured list: Rafael Dolis (calf), Anthony Castro (forearm), Julian Merryweather (oblique), David Phelps (lat), Thomas Hatch (elbow). Of those names, Castro is the closest to a return … Former Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey is giving baseball another go, signing a minor-league deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Now 28, the Mississauga product last took an MLB at-bat in 2018 and spent some time last summer toiling in independent league ball in Texas.
STAT DIG: 39 homers
That’s not quite a real statistic yet, but it’s what Bo Bichette is trying to make happen with eight homers through his first 33 games, which has him on an almost 40-homer pace as we approach mid-May.
Back in March, most sportsbooks were offering Bichette’s over/under home run total at 23.5, so the early power numbers are a bit of a surprise to most.
Can Bichette keep this up?
Maybe he ends up trading some homers for doubles as the summer progresses, but there’s definitely momentum towards at least a 30-homer campaign with a career-high 115.5 mph max exit velocity and a career-high 50 per cent hard-hit rate.
Bichette is doing a lot of his damage against breaking balls this season, hitting four of his eight bombs and slugging .604 against benders, compared to .435 against fastballs and .385 against offspeed pitches.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“I was determined to stay in that game. I'm glad I did. I believe I can play through whatever. Obviously, I couldn't and here I am.”
—Blue Jays outfielder George Springer on re-injuring quad against the Atlanta Braves and landing on IL for a second time
TWITTER QUESTION OF THE WEEK
“Can we go an hour without an injury?”
—Ethan Rodriguez (@ethan_r94)
ANSWER: This sarcasm was in response to my tweet that Cuban prospect Yosver Zulueta tore up his knee while covering first base in his debut at Low-A Dunedin last week and is done for the year.
An under-the-radar international signing, Zulueta was buzzing during spring training and many were eager to see what he’d look like in game action.
All Zulueta got was three pitches before the freak play that will force him to undergo surgery.
To answer the question, with 11 players currently on the IL and a couple of prospects going down in the first week of the minor league season, it seems like the standard is now an injury per hour, unfortunately.
THE CALL-UP LIST
Five players most deserving of a call up when a need arises:
RHP T.J. Zeuch, Triple-A Buffalo: Now recovered from a bout with shoulder tendinitis, the 6-foot-7 righty made his season debut with the Bisons on Friday, allowing three runs over four innings. He’ll be back in the big-league bullpen to provide length at some point.
RHP Ty Tice, Triple-A Buffalo: He’s riding the reliever shuttle when a fresh arm is needed.
OF Josh Palacios, Triple-A Buffalo: Two hits Sunday pushed his early-season OPS with the Bisons to .840. He’s corner outfield injury insurance.
INF Christian Colon/Breyvic Valera, Triple-A Buffalo: Two utility players who are both off the 40-man roster, they’re behind Santiago Espinal and Joe Panik, who just landed on the 10-day IL with a calf issue.
SP Alek Manoah, Triple-A Buffalo: I’m going to start him low on this list. If he’s lights out going forward, he’ll eventually force the front office’s hand. It’s up to him.
PROSPECT OF THE WEEK
Highlighting one player in the system that you need to know about:
C Gabriel Moreno, Double-A New Hampshire
Whether it was Reese McGuire’s waiver status, Danny Jansen’s struggles or Alejandro Kirk’s body/bat combo, the catcher position has been making a lot of headlines recently.
Moreno is the next one. And maybe the best one, depending on who you talk to.
After impressing last summer at the alternate site, Moreno looks to be taking another step in his Double-A debut this season, coming out of the gates hot with seven hits in his first 17 at-bats to sport a .412/.500/.588 slash line across his first four games as a 21-year-old.