Notes: Hatch to have MRI; Pearson update

March 17th, 2021

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays starter left Toronto's 1-0 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday with right elbow and forearm discomfort, the club announced. Hatch is scheduled to undergo an MRI, at which point the Blue Jays will have more information on the extent of the injury.

Hatch delivered the third pitch of an at-bat to Aaron Judge, a 95.5 mph sinker that was fouled off. Hatch then motioned to the dugout, at which point the Blue Jays’ trainer came out along with pitching coach Pete Walker and manager Charlie Montoyo.

“All I know right now is that he was smart enough to get out when he felt something,” Montoyo said after the game. “Of course we all get nervous when that happens, but that’s all we know right now."

Montoyo added that the Blue Jays did not notice Hatch experiencing any discomfort on prior pitches, and hadn’t heard that from Hatch.

The right-hander had worked through two scoreless innings in his second Grapefruit League start and projects to be a key piece of this Blue Jays team in 2021. Currently staying stretched out as a starter, Hatch would be one of the next names in line should the Blue Jays have a rotation need beyond the current groin injury to top prospect Nate Pearson.

In the event Hatch misses significant time, the Blue Jays’ pitching depth chart will be tested further. Veteran swingman Ross Stripling is currently presumed to be first in line for Pearson’s rotation spot, while lefty Anthony Kay and right-hander T.J. Zeuch represent that next level of rotation depth. After opening the season on April 1 in New York, the Blue Jays have an off day on April 2 before playing 16 games in 16 days, so the depth of their rotation and multi-inning bullpen arms could be tested early.

In 2020, Hatch debuted primarily in a relief role and was impressive, posting a 2.73 ERA over 26 1/3 innings with 23 strikeouts.

Pearson update
Pearson had a “mild re-aggravation” of his right groin strain in a bullpen session Tuesday, but Montoyo said he felt better Wednesday than he did the day after his initial strain. Still, it’s very unlikely that Pearson is ready for Opening Day. As long as this doesn’t stretch too deep into April, though, this shouldn’t be too serious an issue as Pearson wasn’t expected to pitch to a full starter’s workload all season long.

Zeuch earning praise through camp
Over the past few days in camp, general manager Ross Atkins and Montoyo have both gone out of their way to highlight right-hander Zeuch, who’s thrown seven innings of one-run ball in the Grapefruit League.

That’s important, because Zeuch isn’t typically the type of pitcher who generates Spring Training hype. The Blue Jays’ No. 28 prospect doesn’t flirt with triple digits or put up big strikeout numbers, pitching instead to weak contact, but the consensus is that Zeuch has taken a step forward entering this season. Part of that is getting back to some basics that made him a first-round pick in 2016.

“We saw an old video of myself that my arm was in a much better position in college and early on in my career,” Zeuch said. “The other thing is that I’m using my lower half a lot better and feeling that load on the back leg. That’s really been the biggest change so far. I definitely feel like I’m getting into my back hip and driving towards the plate instead of falling towards home plate. I feel like I’m getting a much stronger drive.”

Zeuch intends to stick to his strengths, too. It's tempting to chase radar gun readings and spin rates, but Zeuch feels that when he tries to “make pitches nasty,” that’s when he fails to execute. Pounding the zone and forcing ground balls is his game, and when he’s doing that to the best of his ability, he gives the Blue Jays some depth in their rotation or another potential swingman option.

Manoah impressing everyone in Spring Training
Pitching prospect Alek Manoah has been the star of camp early on and struck out seven Yankees in three perfect innings of work on Sunday. Opening the season with Double-A New Hampshire still seems sensible for Manoah, but he’s done everything possible to accelerate his timeline this spring.

“That was fun. That was a lot of fun to watch. Someone asked me a month ago who I was most excited to see in camp and it was Alek,” said Atkins. “The heartbeat, the way he embraces competition, all of you can see how much fun he was having embracing the challenge of facing a pretty good couple of lineups and performing exceptionally well. He’s put himself in an incredible position.”