Blue Jays: Nate Pearson needs to be a reliever in 2021
By Jason Lee
Just 13 games into the regular season, the Blue Jays have been hit hard with the injury bug.
George Springer, the Blue Jays’ major offseason signing, has yet to play a game and to make matters worse, the team has also lost their top three relievers to long-term injuries.
Kirby Yates, signed this offseason to be the closer, had to undergo Tommy John surgery before the season even began and will be out for the year. More recently, Julian Merryweather was placed on the IL with a left oblique strain, and Jordan Romano soon followed him with right ulnar neuritis.
As it stands, manager Charlie Montoyo will have to rely on some combination of Rafael Dolis, Ryan Borucki, and David Phelps (who’s day-to-day with a back contusion) to close games for the foreseeable future. For a team with playoff aspirations, Dolis, Borucki, and Phelps are not the trio you want to see everyday in high leverage situations.
So, is there a better alternative? Well, enter Nate Pearson.
Everyone knows Nate Pearson wants to be (and should be) a starter. With the amount of raw talent that Pearson has, the Blue Jays would be foolish to not exhaust every possible avenue of helping Pearson become an MLB starter.
That being said, does Pearson have to be a starter in 2021? The Blue Jays have a clear need in the bullpen and Pearson is recovering from numerous injuries. It makes too much sense for the team to manage and control Pearson’s workload out of the pen while simultaneously addressing a desperate need of the roster.
If Pearson pitches as a reliever this season, the Blue Jays have the opportunity to precisely manage when, how often, and how much he pitches. In contrast to the taxing and largely inflexible starter’s workload and schedule, there’s no doubt that the organization can better manage Pearson’s health if he pitches out of the pen. Moreover, we’ve also seen that pitching out of the pen does not necessarily stunt the development of a top pitching prospect.
In his first two MLB seasons, Chris Sale pitched exclusively as a high-leverage reliever for the Chicago White Sox. After amassing invaluable experience in the 94.1 innings he pitched as a reliever, Chris Sale went on to become one of the most dominant starters in all of Major League Baseball. There clearly is a precedent of success, so the Blue Jays don’t have to worry about jeopardizing Nate Pearson’s long-term outlook if he pitches as a reliever this season.
And finally, there are so many other small potential benefits that stem from pitching in relief. A pitcher’s stuff will usually play up in shorter stints which may lead to better results, which could boost a pitcher’s confidence. Moreover, as a reliever, Pearson can experience the feeling of helping the team in a significant way, every day – something that he may not necessarily experience pitching four to five innings every five days (assuming that the team places him on a strict innings limit).
Every Blue Jays fan knows that Nate Pearson can become one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. It’s just a matter of keeping him healthy and confident for a sustained period of time. We’ve seen how dominant Pearson can be out of the pen (remember that relief appearance in the playoffs last year against the Rays?) and we know the Blue Jays are in need of a shutdown pitcher in the bullpen. If it’s what’s best for the player and for the team, perhaps the Blue Jays should at least entertain the idea.