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Pearson after dazzling debut: 'I belong here'

@KeeganMatheson
July 29, 2020

Believe the hype. Nate Pearson’s MLB debut in Wednesday's 4-0 loss to the Nationals matched the sky-high expectations for the Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect, as he held the defending champions scoreless over five innings of two-hit ball at Nationals Park. Pearson struck out five and walked two. “My stuff

Believe the hype.

Nate Pearson’s MLB debut in Wednesday's 4-0 loss to the Nationals matched the sky-high expectations for the Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect, as he held the defending champions scoreless over five innings of two-hit ball at Nationals Park. Pearson struck out five and walked two.

“My stuff plays here and I belong here,” Pearson said. “I’ll just carry that confidence that I had today into my next outing and my outings in years to come. I know my stuff plays, and that’s all I’m focused on.”

The towering right-hander showed not just his elite talent, but the many layers that come along with it as he opened the game leaning heavily on his fastball and slider before adjusting his pitch mix to include his curveball and changeup late. Pearson was in full control for a tidy 75 pitches over those five frames, and he knew it.

That pitch mix was planned, and it shows how Pearson’s mental approach on the mound makes him a true pitcher, not just a thrower. In pregame meetings, Pearson and the Blue Jays identified that the Nationals had some hitters who handled changeups well, but not sliders, so they decided to lean on his power stuff early.

“I had a little bit of everything working,” Pearson said. “The fastball command was there at times when I needed it, but it still wasn’t where I wanted it to be. Man, my slider was on tonight. It was my big pitch. It got me out of some jams and I got some big strikeouts with it, but I also threw two curveballs for strikes and a changeup that I got a swing-and-miss on, too.”

It took him Pearson four pitches to show why he’s considered the future ace of the Blue Jays, and it’s not all about his fastball. After starting Washington leadoff hitter Trea Turner with a heater that painted the inside edge, he came back at 1-1 with two sliders. Turner whiffed on both of them, making him the first of what figures to be many strikeouts in Pearson’s career.

“When he got out of the game, I said, ‘Hey, man, we’ve got a chance to win every five days,'” said manager Charlie Montoyo, who suddenly has a new Ferrari sitting in his garage.

Pearson has always said he gets stronger as the game goes on, though -- and he did. After topping out at 96.8 mph in the first inning, the big right-hander started pumping 98-plus in the second, which the Nationals couldn’t catch up with. Pearson ended the inning by blowing a fastball past Carter Kieboom before spinning off the mound and breaking back to the dugout.

Kieboom might have some nightmares about Pearson, because it didn’t end there. After allowing a leadoff double in the fourth, Pearson forced a groundout and a lineout to set up a showdown against Kieboom with a runner on third and two outs. After quickly jumping ahead 0-2, Pearson threw his best pitch of the night, a 98.5-mph fastball at the knees that couldn’t have been placed better if he walked the ball to the plate himself.

Pearson has always been a confident pitcher. Where others shy away from sharing their lofty aspirations, instead leaning on the tried-and-true answers about trying to get better every day, Pearson will tell you exactly what he wants. He wants to be the best, and Wednesday was step one.

“It’s just all of the veteran guys telling me it’s the same game you’re playing in the Minors,” Pearson said. “Just go out there and dominate. Go out there and do the same thing you’ve been doing the whole time. That’s exactly what I did. When I throw a good pitch, I know it’s going to be a swing and miss. When I know I’m going to ring him up, I just act my normal self and be confident.”

The Blue Jays’ bullpen eventually fell apart behind Pearson in extras, but Wednesday’s outing was a launching pad. The 23-year-old said he was “taking mental pictures” and will look back on going toe-to-toe with the great Max Scherzer, but for now, his focus quickly shifts to his next time out. The prospect days are over, and Pearson is here not just to develop, but to win.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.