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Blue Jays moving Nate Pearson to the bullpen was inevitable – Toronto Star

By Gregor ChisholmBaseball Columnist

Thu., July 22, 20214 min. read

The Blue Jays finally have some clarity on both Nate Pearson’s health and his role for the next two months as they gear up to make a run at the post-season.

Pearson has been limited to one big-league appearance this season because of injuries. A groin issue popped up in spring training and resurfaced in mid June, which led to another stint on the injured list, something Pearson has become accustomed to over a four-year professional career.

The ailment was initially labelled as a strained groin, but the club’s medical staff couldn’t determine the root of the problem. He was sent for multiple opinions from medical experts — it was up to four at last count — and the Jays now believe they have a proper diagnosis. Pearson had a sports hernia.

“He’s throwing again, he’ll be in a bullpen environment, live (batting practice) within a week,” Jays general manager Ross Atkins said this week after providing the medical update. “Back into competitive baseball just shortly after that, assuming things go smoothly.”

When Pearson returns it will be out of the bullpen, not the starting rotation. Toronto made that decision to protect his health during an injury-shortened season and because it was no longer realistic to think that he had enough time left in the year to make it back as a starter.

Pearson hasn’t appeared in a game since June 16, and he has thrown just 27 innings all year. Before he could be considered for a starting job, the 24-year-old would have been required to gradually build up in the minors, a process that takes upwards of six weeks. As a reliever, there’s an ability to return in less than half that time, a big difference considering there are barely two months remaining on the schedule.

The revised role could end up being a major boon to the Jays’ post-season hopes. Pearson has an overpowering arm that plays well in high-leverage situations, an area where the Jays have struggled all year. Once he’s medically cleared and settled in, the Florida native should become one of the primary setup men in front of closer Jordan Romano. It’s like getting an upgrade at the deadline without having to orchestrate a deal.

The Jays have an idea of what to expect because they got a glimpse of what Pearson could do out of the bullpen during last year’s wild card series against the Rays. He struck out five across two perfect innings as one of the only bright spots from an otherwise dismal post-season. If Pearson can regain that form, his role would compare favourably to the one right-hander Aaron Sanchez had in 2015 for a Jays team that advanced to the American League Championship Series.

“It’s good to know what he’s going to be doing, that he’s feeling better and that he’s going to build up to be used out of the bullpen,” Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “It’s great to know that. We just have to see how it works out. Hopefully, he stays healthy, gets used to the bullpen a couple times before we decide to bring him up. That’s good news because the last time I saw him throwing out of the bullpen, he looked pretty good.”

There’s bad news here, too. While moving Pearson to the ’pen helps in the short term, it will negatively impact his career ambitions and the rotation’s trajectory beyond 2021. This marks the second consecutive year the promising hurler has been unable to get properly stretched out in his preferred role as a starter. Considering Pearson has thrown fewer than 200 innings across five seasons in the Jays organization, it’s fair to begin questioning whether it’s ever going to happen.

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Nate Pearson appeared in just one MLB game this season, vs. the Houston Astros on May 9.

The most Pearson has ever pitched in one season was 101 2/3 innings in 2019. The Jays don’t have a set policy on how much a pitcher’s workload can be increased from one season to the next, preferring to approach each situation on a case-by-case basis, but a general rule of thumb is that teams don’t increase workloads by much more than 30 percent over previous career highs.

If the Jays followed a similar strategy here, Pearson would still be more than two years away from being able to throw 180-plus innings. By then, he’ll be 27.

“He’s still young, that doesn’t concern me,” Montoyo said when asked about Pearson’s future as a starter. “Of course, he’s missed a lot of time, so it’s probably going to take him a little bit longer than other people. But I believe he’s going to be all right. It’s all about staying healthy, and he needs to pitch. If he stays healthy, he’ll be all right for sure.”

When Pearson has been healthy enough to pitch, he’s someone who has shown an ability to maintain his upper-90s velocity deep into games. The way to maximize an impact arm like that is by having him toss six or seven innings every five days, not through short stints out of the bullpen.

But the Jays can no longer be concerned about maximizing Pearson’s potential, at least not this season. They have holes to fill and there’s an open call for as many reliable pitchers the organization can get a hold of. In this case, an inning or two at a time from Pearson is better than none at all.

After such a long absence, moving Pearson to the ’pen became inevitable. It could lead to good things in the near term, but it’s another big setback on his journey to becoming a front-line starter.


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