Notes: Pearson working in bullpen role

Richards off to good start with Toronto; Manoah throws side session

July 25th, 2021

Nothing about this season has gone as planned for Nate Pearson, the Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect who hasn’t shown his dominant potential with any consistency since the 2019 season.

Recurring groin injuries kept Pearson down earlier this season, and he’s since been diagnosed with a sports hernia. That's good news, in the Blue Jays' eyes, because they finally have some clarity and can begin to conservatively manage it. In his one MLB outing, Pearson lasted just 2 1/3 innings and walked five with zero strikeouts. Now that the big right-hander is coming back in a relief role to close out the season, though, there’s some cautiously renewed optimism.

“It’s really about getting him consistent, getting his stuff consistent, making sure he’s feeling great and getting him to the point where he’s in games and bouncing back,” said pitching coach Pete Walker. “It’s one step at a time right now with him and making sure things progress on a normal path. We’re excited for the possibility of having him back in that bullpen. It could be a shot in the arm for this ‘pen to have 100 mph coming out of the ‘pen. It could be a big lift to this team.”

Now almost 25, Pearson is far removed from that incredible 2019 season that catapulted him up prospect lists in the Minor Leagues. The stuff is still there, of course, but these injuries over the past couple of seasons have prevented him from building up any real sense of consistency or momentum.

“Getting him back to being healthy and being able to bounce back is critical,” Walker said.

“He’s had a lot of bumps in the road up to this point. I feel bad for him and obviously for us. We need him. It would be great to have him back. I think we’ve rectified some of those physical issues, mechanically as well.”

If this works -- which remains an “if at this point” -- Pearson’s upside is still significant. Look no further than the 2020 American League Wild Card Series against the Rays, when Pearson came in and pitched two dominant innings, striking out five. This would also offer the Blue Jays the type of length they’d love out of the bullpen, with a high-leverage arm capable of carrying multiple innings at a time.

Once Pearson is built back up physically, he’ll be sent on a rehab assignment. He won’t be rejoining the Blue Jays tomorrow by any means, but if he can work his way back at some point in August, that could provide the exact boost Walker envisions.

Rotation managing heavy workload
With a packed schedule coming up that includes a pair of doubleheaders, the Blue Jays will need to ensure that their rotation gets through to the other side with some gas left in the tank for the stretch run. Any solutions will be temporary, though, and not stretch on beyond that.

“I don’t want to get carried away with a six-man rotation,” Walker said. “We have a five-man rotation and we’re really just slotting a starter in to give those guys a bit of a blow over an 18-game stretch. Obviously, with two doubleheaders coming up, one in Toronto and one in L.A. That’s the main reason to do it, but other than that we’ll be back to our normal five-man rotation soon.”

Richards quietly stabilizing bullpen
Reliever Trevor Richards, acquired in the Rowdy Tellez deal with Milwaukee on July 6, has allowed just one run with 11 strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings since joining the Blue Jays. It’s not flashy, but Richards’ changeup has been giving hitters fits and Walker loves what he’s seen so far from the steady right-hander.

“Some guys make it look easy, and the way it should be. He comes in, he locates his fastball well to both sides of the plate, he can pitch up in the zone and down in the zone. His secondary stuff carries the zone very well and exits the zone when need be. That changeup is a plus pitch.”

Extras ...
Alek Manoah threw an “exceptional” side session during the week and is still on schedule to throw 60-75 pitches on Monday in Florida. After that, the big right-hander is expected to rejoin the rotation after missing a couple of starts with a right back contusion.

Thomas Hatch threw 60-75 pitches after his recent scheduled start was rained out in Buffalo, N.Y., keeping him on schedule to start in Manoah’s spot on Monday against the Red Sox if he’s not needed on Sunday behind Ross Stripling.

• Walker said that it is “not the plan right now” to have Hyun Jin Ryu start in the team’s return to Rogers Centre on July 30. Keeping the rotation in its current order, that would fall to Stripling.