The Blue Jays have to be thrilled to get Nate Pearson back on the big league roster, and the timing could be perfect for the talented right-hander.
It’s been a frustrating and unfortunate start to the 2021 season for the 24-year-old, as injuries have kept him from making his regular season debut. However, now that he’s returning to the club in the early part of May, the timing looks to be great for a few reasons.
The most obvious of course is the fact that the pitching staff has been ravaged by injuries lately, particularly in the bullpen. They lost Kirby Yates before the regular season had even started, and it seems like there’s been a curse on high-leverage relievers for this team. Julian Merryweather was just moved to the 60-day Injured List earlier this week, and it’s possible David Phelps could join him there. Jordan Romano missed a few weeks to injury as well, and the latest victim is Rafael Dolis, who is now battling a calf issue. While Pearson won’t help the bullpen directly, his presence might allow Charlie Montoyo to use a guy like Ross Stripling out of the bullpen instead, or at least avoid the “bullpen day” concept for a while.
For Pearson, there are silver linings to his missing part of the season, even if it’s unfortunate. It’s long been expected that he would be on some sort of innings limit, as he’s only thrown 145 frames as a pro from 2017 to the present, with a career high of 101.2 in 2019. Even if his health had been spotless to this point, there was no way he was going to throw 200 innings this year.
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As he makes his debut on May 9th, the Blue Jays might not have to think about that limitation so much. Obviously he has to stay healthy for the remainder of the season, something he’s struggled with so far in his pro career, but even if he can it shouldn’t be as big of a challenge for Montoyo and Pete Walker.
I say that because Pearson has already missed roughly 20% of the season. The only Blue Jays starter to have been healthy the whole time, Steven Matz, just made his 7th start of the year on Saturday night. That means he might have 23-25 starts left to make this year, again, depending on his own health and performance.
Let’s say Pearson is asked to make somewhere between 18-23 starts from this point forward, and for the sake of ease, let’s just go with an even number of 20. Chances are he’ll be skipped every now and then to still keep an eye on his workload, but I’m sure they’d like to give him a regular turn as much as they can.
With baseball trending in a less starter-dominant direction, and Montoyo’s pretty clear preference for shorter outings for his starters, Pearson probably isn’t going to average 7.0 innings per appearance either. A more likely number might be around 5.0 innings per turn through the rotation, and if we do some simple math and multiply that by 20 starts, we’re only talking about 100 innings. Even at 22-23 starts, that’s still just 110-115 frames.
Ideally Pearson would average more than five innings per start, but I’d be surprised to see the Blue Jays push their star pupil too hard in 2021. As I’ve mentioned, he has had some struggles to stay on the mound, and to harness his potential in general. It’s clear that his talent is elite, but there are likely still some growing pains for him to go through, which isn’t that surprising when you consider he’s only made five big league appearances (and one more in the playoffs last year).
Having said all that, it’ll be exciting to see the flamethrower make his season debut, and from this point forward, hopefully the Blue Jays more or less set him loose. With his delayed start to the year, they should be able to.