3 arms to watch in Blue Jays' bullpen

April 18th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Bullpens need a few weeks to figure themselves out, especially this one.

Coming out of camp, the Blue Jays opened with Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson on the IL, so this group was bound to go through some early changes. That’s happened now, with optioned to Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday and Mitch White designated for assignment that same day, but we’re already starting to see how this group could evolve over the season.

Looking down the road, here’s what you should keep an eye on:

1. Pearson … eventually …
Pearson has a 0.00 ERA with nine strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings this season. Sunday, he topped out at 102.3 mph against the Rockies. He just got optioned.

Tough crowd, huh?

“Nate has thrown the ball really well. This is a guy with a zero ERA who was throwing 102 mph last outing. I totally get that,” manager John Schneider said. “I think you need some kind of length with the way we are built right now, and the guys who are coming back being one-inning guys for now. It was tough. Nate was totally professional about it and understood it. He’s going to be a big part of what we do this year. He’ll be back at some point, definitely.”

Pearson fell victim to the options game, unfortunately. The Blue Jays wanted to keep Bowden Francis as some length behind Yariel Rodríguez, and Génesis Cabrera as a second lefty behind Tim Mayza, which didn’t leave many choices other than Pearson. It’s hard to stomach, given how well Pearson has pitched, but he still has an opportunity to be a major part of this bullpen and will surely get that shot again soon.

Once one of the top pitching prospects in the game, it’s been so refreshing to see Pearson thrive at the big league level. There’s a conviction behind everything Pearson does now, and while these first three weeks only offer a small sample, there’s serious optimism behind the scenes that Pearson can keep this rolling.

“[Pitching coach] Pete [Walker] said when we met with him that he’s kind of learned how to pitch,” Schneider said. “His delivery is really consistent. When you have that, you’re confident and your stuff just plays. There were some small adjustments he made in the offseason that have paid dividends for him, but the biggest thing for Nate is that he knows he can come in and get outs at this level and dominate an inning.”

2. The difference between good and great?
The Blue Jays have Romano, Swanson and Chad Green on top of Trevor Richards and Mayza. That’s already a fine start. Having García pitch like he has been, though, is what can make this bullpen a true strength, something that flips games.

“Yimi’s on a different level right now,” Schneider said.

García recently threw the hardest pitch of his 10-year career (99.8 mph) and owns a 1.04 ERA with 11 strikeouts over 8 2/3 innings. Somehow, it’s looked even better than those numbers. With Romano and Swanson back, Schneider can roll out García anywhere he wants, even as early as the sixth inning if the heart of the order is coming up. It’s such an incredible weapon to have.

“He’s durable. He’s one dude you don’t want to mess with,” Schneider said. “He’s quiet, but he’s a brick [expletive] house. You don’t want to mess with that. He’s good right now.”

García is one of the best relievers in baseball right now, period. Unless this offense suddenly finds itself overnight, the Blue Jays are going to have to win plenty of close, low-scoring games again this year. García has never been more important to this club.

3. The big variable:
The rest of the bullpen won’t change much, beyond the potential of Pearson sliding in and out. The long reliever spot is different, though, and very much tied to Rodríguez’s workload limitations for this season. For now, Francis owns the bulk role and will piggyback off Rodríguez at times, but Rodríguez isn’t about to throw 180 innings here.

Everything points to Rodríguez’s role evolving, which could lead to the bullpen at some point later this season. Those decisions will impact the bulk role, of course, but unless an injury hits, the Blue Jays have their starting five for now, with Alek Manoah, Ricky Tiedemann and others on the fringes.

Consider this the “complicated” spot … and for now, that’s a fine problem to have.