This was Pearson’s second bullpen session as he worked back from the injury, which he suffered in a game on March 1. The injury wasn’t considered to be serious at the time, and while the Blue Jays don’t have a timeline set for the hard-throwing right-hander, this almost certainly puts him out of the picture for Opening Day.
With the alternate training site being utilized through April, until Minor League play begins again in May, it’s possible the Blue Jays bring Pearson along slowly and utilize that site in his rehab process. A groin strain typically has straightforward recovery, depending on the severity, but at this point on the calendar the focus will be not just on getting Pearson back to 100% health, but on building him back up to his full workload as a starting pitcher.
This adds another unfortunate chapter to Pearson’s injury history early in his career. Back in 2018, Pearson was hit by a bad-luck comebacker and broke a bone in his forearm, forcing him to miss nearly the entire season. Pearson built back up in 2019, establishing himself as one of the most exciting young arms in baseball, but lost the opportunity to continue building his innings in 2020 and missed over a month of that 60-game season with right elbow tightness.
Fortunately for the Blue Jays, there’s no shortage of starting pitching depth in the organization. This rotation still needs upside on the top end, of course, but they can quickly pivot to some of their young arms to cover Pearson’s innings and multi-inning bullpen roles.
Ross Stripling projects to be first in line for that rotation spot. Stripling, who came over from the Dodgers in a deal at the Trade Deadline last summer, made 59 starts with the Dodgers as he swung between the rotation and bullpen. That’s one of the reasons the Blue Jays were attracted to Stripling, and while they hadn’t planned on leaning on that versatility so early, Stripling will help bridge the gap.
Atkins, as always, wants to keep as many doors open as possible for not just the organization, but each individual pitcher.
“We want to make sure we put everyone in a position to have options,” Atkins said. “Obviously, Stripling, with what he’s done in his career, has a leg up on that spot. It’s not where he’s necessarily in the five spot. There are several guys in a similar situation as it relates to our rotation with experience. Then, there are several guys in a similar situation with less experience.”
It’s easy to focus in solely on the Opening Day roster, but that can change quickly.
The Blue Jays open their season at Yankee Stadium in New York on April 1, and following the off day on April 2, they play 16 games in 16 days. That will play a major factor in how they line up their pitching staff early on.
“We’ll be thinking about those first couple of series, knowing that our 26-man roster could look different for the third or fourth series based on having to get through that,” Atkins said. “Maybe our starting pitchers won’t be stretched out quite as far as they would be at that point. So much of it will depend upon us continuing to have a good camp from a health and performance standpoint.”
By the time the Blue Jays get through that stretch, which ends April 18 following a four-game set in Kansas City, they’ll have a chance to catch their breath. That Monday, April 19, is an off day, and after a quick two-game series in Boston, the Blue Jays also have Thursday, April 22, off.
If Pearson does need an IL stint to open the season, and is getting closer to 100% by that point, it lines up well for the Blue Jays. But that’s still a full month down the road.
Beyond Stripling, the Blue Jays have Thomas Hatch, who the club plans to keep fully stretched out as a starter. Hatch has the upside to insert himself into this rotation long-term, regardless of the injuries ahead of him, so he’ll be on the radar. Anthony Kay will also stay stretched out as a starter while T.J. Zeuch, who Atkins brought up multiple times as a positive story out of camp, is in the fold. Julian Merryweather, who was being stretched out, is expected to be used in a multi-inning bullpen role now, which could also be part of the solution.