Like any team entering the postseason, the Blue Jays are looking for their X-factor, that one player who can tip the scales at just the right time to change the course of a series.
With the rise of bullpens overflowing with power arms, teams are always looking for their own version of Andrew Miller’s October excellence. Blue Jays No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson won’t be pushed quite that hard after missing over a month with a flexor strain, but he’s positioned to be a major piece of Toronto’s pitching strategy.
“If he were to pitch today, we would definitely be comfortable with him pitching in the third game,” general manager Ross Atkins said prior to Tuesday’s Wild Card Series opener against the Rays. “Depending on the scenario, the setting, even potentially back to back. I think that’s very unlikely, but he has been working very hard, has been recovering very well, but I think a more likely scenario would be Game 1 then Game 3 or just Game 2.”
In Pearson’s lone relief appearance at the end of the season, he threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings with a pair of strikeouts. The number that really opened eyes, though, was when he hit 101.5 mph on the radar gun.
Initially, manager Charlie Montoyo said that he’d need to give Pearson additional notice in the bullpen because this wasn’t his natural role. Besides, Pearson has always said that, even within his starts, it takes him some time to heat up and reach those top velocities. Something’s obviously changed.
“We found out the other day that it didn’t take him that long, so that was good to see,” Montoyo said. “That was one of the reasons we had him come in the other day, to see how long it would take him. It was pretty quick.”
Pearson’s usage is also closely tied to the Blue Jays’ overall strategy, which has a link to Hyun Jin Ryu.
By putting Ryu in Game 2 instead of the opener, it’s possible there’s less of a bullpen need in the middle game, opening up Montoyo to push his top relievers harder in a Game 1 and potential Game 3. That might not be the case in a standard season or traditional postseason format, but Atkins said Tuesday that this is a much different landscape. That’s why the club didn’t feel the need to push Ryu into the opener.
“In this scenario, Game 1 seemed much less significant than in a traditional scenario,” Atkins said. “Significantly different.”
Guerrero describes steady clubhouse
This Blue Jays roster is stocked with young players who haven’t done this before. This will be a valuable experience regardless, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. says there’s a reason that the players in the clubhouse believe that they can compete on the big stage.
“The key word for everything here is trust. We trust each other, the teammates, the staff, and of course Charlie and his trust in us,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “Even if we go out there and we don’t do it right, the support is there. The trust is there. It feels good when you know the staff, Charlie and everybody is backing you up.”
Time after time in 2020, the Blue Jays would make fundamental mistakes on the field and Montoyo would choose to take the approach of patience and teaching. The long-term development of his team and moments like this were clearly in mind when those decisions were made.
Tellez is back, but still progressing
“We’ll see, as he continues to progress, if he can potentially play first base for us,” Atkins said. “We’re working towards that in a way that we feel is safe. At this point, it’s workload management and then making sure he has enough live action -- as live as we can make it -- to make him feel like he’s comfortable and in a fair position.”
Romano could return in potential ALDS
Jordan Romano was the Blue Jays’ best reliever before he went down, with a 1.23 ERA and a slider that left hitters baffled. He’s close to returning from the pulley strain in his right middle finger, and it sounds like he could only need a few more days.
“He is absolutely, physically, in a position to throw balls hard, throw sliders and do the things that would be asked of a pitcher in a game,” Atkins said. “We felt, for this series, it was unfair to ask him to come in to the seventh, eighth or ninth innings.”