BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Blue Jays finally got some good news regarding No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson recently. Well, relatively speaking.
Pearson is dealing with a sports hernia, but that’s something the Blue Jays are confident can be managed conservatively over the final months of the season. Pearson has dealt with multiple groin injuries this season, stretching back to Spring Training, and there was legitimate worry surrounding the recurring issue as he sought out multiple medical opinions.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins called this a “huge relief” on Tuesday, giving Pearson and the organization some much-needed clarity that allows them to move forward.
“He’s throwing again in a bullpen environment, then live BPs within a week and back into competitive baseball shortly after that, assuming things go smoothly,” Atkins said. “[He’ll be] in a more defined role with shorter stints and most likely relief appearances to manage the workload over the course of this year. He could be a reliever option for us in the near term.”
The Blue Jays still expect to stretch Pearson back out as a starter next spring, but given this run of injuries, that’s no longer a long-term certainty for the big right-hander, who turns 25 on Aug. 20. Pearson was great in 2019, which sent his prospect status skyrocketing, but he’d missed nearly all of ’18 with a fractured right arm, threw just 18 innings in the shortened ’20 season and has thrown just 27 innings this year. Past dominance and his rare physical gifts have earned Pearson his reputation, but the Blue Jays need to see it in the big leagues. Not just in flashes, but consistently.
A bullpen role makes a great deal of sense in 2021, especially if Pearson can recapture the flicker of brilliance he showed in last year’s American League Wild Card Series against the Rays. In Game 2 of that series, Pearson came out of the bullpen and threw two shutout innings, striking out five of the six batters he faced on just 33 pitches.
Outside of Craig Kimbrel, Pearson pitching to the peak of his talent might be the best solution out there for the Blue Jays’ bullpen. That’s a big “if” as the last four years have shown, but the talent is still there and the Blue Jays hope it can show itself more consistently in short bursts through August and September.
'Run prevention' a priority, but ...
Looking at this roster, it’s easy to chart out a plan for the upcoming Trade Deadline on July 30.
“I think the obvious areas seem to point towards run prevention as we’re scoring a lot of runs,” Atkins said. “We’ve improved in that area in certain ways, and we’ll look to see if there’s ways to do that. We have to think about winning. That’s what it comes down to. It’s not just as simple as preventing more runs, so if we can’t improve our team via run prevention -- whether that’s pitching, defense or just complementary players -- we’ll think about improving it from an offensive standpoint as well.”
Yes, pitching and defense win games -- or often do -- but this Blue Jays team is built to outscore opponents. A 9-7 win counts just the same as a 3-2 win, and even if that’s not Toronto’s Plan A, it’s a fine Plan B.
Dickerson getting closer
Outfielder Corey Dickerson, who came to Toronto via trade on June 29 with a left foot injury, was seen running and taking batting practice at Sahlen Field on Monday. Atkins said Dickerson came out of that test feeling strong, which marks the most encouraging step yet for the nine-year veteran.
“He’ll be moving to playing in some potential rehab-assignment games, and then depending on how many at-bats he needs and how everything is going, that will dictate how soon he’s available for Major League play,” Atkins said.
Dickerson will give the Blue Jays a fifth outfielder, but his lefty bat is needed and manager Charlie Montoyo loves his style of play from their time together with Tampa Bay, calling him a “gamer.” It’s unlikely Dickerson will step into a regular starting role, but there will be reps available to him once healthy.