Pearson takes step with in-game adjustments

August 7th, 2020

battled the zone at times in Thursday’s 4-3 walk-off loss in Atlanta, but his second Major League start offered some revealing hints of what’s to come from the Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect.

Pearson allowed more runs (three) than hits (two) over five innings, with three walks and five strikeouts. But a pair of touchpoints within his start act as a perfect example of the in-game adjustments Pearson can make. Consider it a “before and after” shot of Pearson facing left-handed hitters in 0-2 counts.

The “before” was Freddie Freeman, who Pearson worked into an 0-2 count with a fastball and a slider for called strikes before throwing another fastball that Freeman awkwardly battled off in the first inning. Pearson went back to his slider for the putaway pitch, but it didn’t have the snapping movement he needed. Freeman adjusted his swing well, straightened his body and golfed a two-run home run to right field, the first runs allowed by Pearson in the big leagues.

“I definitely wanted it in, but I wanted it more on his back foot,” Pearson said, “so if he was going to swing at it, he would miss it. Obviously, I left it up just a little bit and he put the barrel on it pretty well. Not the exact placement I wanted it to be, but he hit it pretty well.”

The “after” was Johan Camargo, who also found himself in an 0-2 count on a curveball and changeup in the second inning. Pearson decided it was time to punch the gas and reached back for a 99.2 mph heater high and inside, the hardest pitch he’s thrown yet in the Majors. Camargo was a day and a half late on his swing, and Pearson had the strikeout.

“That was probably my best sequencing of the night,” Pearson said. “First pitch curveball, then changeup, he swung right over. He was not expecting that at all. Then we went fastball right there and I let it eat up in the zone. I wasn’t really trying to go under his hands, I was just trying to elevate. I got the elevation, and it happened to be in a really good spot under his hands.”

That’s the positive Pearson will take, and one of the traits that makes him one of baseball’s best young arms is his commitment to not just getting things right, but perfect.

Pearson lost the zone at times on Thursday. Sometimes, he was flirting with the edges, but there were a surprising number of pitches where he’d lose his delivery altogether, either spiking the pitch in front of the plate or missing high. That’s where he’ll be looking when he gets to the video room to prep for his next outing, which should come in Buffalo.

“It was a grind,” Pearson said. “It was hot, humid. Just trying to find the strike zone at times. I had some success, then not so much. I only gave up two hits, but I’ve really got to focus on throwing strikes from here on out. I think that’s going to change the whole dynamic of the way I pitch as long as I control the zone more.”

Behind Pearson, the Blue Jays’ lineup was all too eager at the plate, as Atlanta starter Touki Toussaint struck out a career-high nine over 6 2/3 innings, with plenty of quick outs in between.  got to Toussaint with a solo home run on an aggressive, first-pitch swing, but more often than not, that aggression worked against the Blue Jays.

“I believe they’re going to come out of it, but right now, when somebody struggled, it’s funny how it’s contagious,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said of the offense. “Hopefully, somebody will get hot and they’ll get everybody going.”

Toronto’s lineup managed just five hits and zero walks, leaving the Blue Jays with few opportunities to improve upon their slow start hitting with runners in scoring position. They made a push late to tie things up at 3, but Wilmer Font surrendered a walk-off home run to Nick Markakis in the bottom of the ninth to seal it.