With the Toronto Blue Jays running into issues with keeping players healthy early this season, the pitching corps no doubt been hit the hardest. Numerous starters and relievers on the Blue Jays roster have spent some time on the injured list, with the organization having to depend on some depth from within to help fill in the holes, pitching to mixed results.
Blue Jays top prospect Nate Pearson was slated to begin the season on the active roster before going down with a groin strain prior to Opening Day, starting the year on the injured list. Once Pearson was healthy, he would be sent down to AAA and would make one start, going 3.2 innings giving up one earned run and four hits while striking out eight with one walk.
With the starting rotation not going deep into ball games and the bullpen being overly taxed a month into the season (plus the injuries), the Blue Jays decided to call up Pearson after his one start in AAA, having him finish off the series yesterday against the Houston Astros. To say that Jays’ fans were excited is an understatement, with social media going nuts with Pearson returning to the starting rotation, hoping he could pitch well and win the game for the Jays before heading to Atlanta. There was some debate as to whether the move was too soon given his injury and time off, but the front office and Charlie Montoyo believed he was ready to go and the team was in need of another starter on the roster.
What happened yesterday went the exact opposite of what I am sure Pearson and the Blue Jays organization were hoping, as the 6’6 right-hander would struggle mightily with his command.
He ended up walking a career-high five batters (one of which would score a run with the bases being loaded) and would surrender three earned runs in just 2.1 innings pitched. He would not strike out a single Astros batter and overall just did not look like the same player who pitched in AAA last week. He just didn’t look comfortable on the mound the entire outing.
With Pearson struggling on the mound, Blue Jays fans were quick to pull the trigger on social media, criticizing the prospect because of his rough outing and questioning his overall ability on the mound. I can see the frustration when it comes to Pearson not performing well in his 2021 debut but find it kind of ridiculous that fans would turn so quickly on the pitcher in his first major league outing of the season.
At 24 years old, Pearson still has quite a few years ahead of him before he enters what many would consider being his prime, and while he has dealt with injuries throughout his minor league career, the Florida native does have a lot of potential ahead of him when it comes to being a prominent arm in the rotation moving forward. However, he has one bad start to begin the season and everybody seems ready to hop on the bandwagon saying he’s not living up to the “expectations” fans have, thinking he will come out and throw seven innings striking out every batter along the way in every start he makes.
He’s not a failed prospect because he had a bad outing yesterday.
He’s not going to walk into the Blue Jays rotation and immediately become the ace everybody is looking for alongside Hyun Jin Ryu.
It’s going to take time and a few starts to get him going again, and while his fastball and his command were an issue yesterday, those are parts of his game that can be worked on and tinkered with before his next start with the coaching staff. He still throws 98 MPH+ with his fastball and still has the ability to work as a starting pitcher with his arsenal, but doubting fans need to give the guy a break here. The dude is human after all.
I get that Blue Jays faithful were hoping for something a little different this season considering the off-season signings and the emergence of some top prospects being close to making the active roster, but sometimes things just don’t go the way they are planned. Like most teams in the league, the Blue Jays are dealing with a multitude of injuries and some players have struggled to begin the season but to knock on Pearson and his overall ability after just one start this year is just plain silly and seems more to do with the frustrations as a whole rather than just this one bad start.
Let’s put it this way.
This isn’t Pearson’s third or fourth year on the active roster where he continues to not find the strike zone. He hasn’t been riding the options bus the past three seasons because he can’t find a way to secure a spot on the rotation. He made his professional debut last year and struggled a bit there as well, going 18.0 innings in four starts (five appearances) giving up 12 earned runs with 13 walks and 16 strikeouts, and ended up missing some time on the injured list. Not many starting pitchers enter the league and immediately craft 2.00-2.50 ERAs and be in the running for the Cy Young Award in their rookie year.
I can also understand the health argument from fans, as Pearson just seems to never be fit enough to log innings whether it is in the minor or major leagues. That is frustrating understandably, but it’s not like the prospect is hoping he enters the season on the injured list. He didn’t ask for a groin strain earlier this year, or a dead arm last year, or a comebacker that broke his arm in 2018, or to undergo surgery to put screws in his arm during his high school days. He will obviously need to stay healthy to contribute on the major league roster, but again, the guy hasn’t even logged 50 innings in the major leagues yet and it seems like some fans are ready to throw in the towel. If this was his fourth or fifth season and he still couldn’t be healthy, then it’s a new discussion.
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Plenty of major league pitchers didn’t spend a long time in the minor leagues or dealt with health issues and still turned out fine. Stephen Strasburg only pitched 104.1 innings in the minors and underwent Tommy John surgery, and he still turned out to be a top of the rotation arm. Max Scherzer only pitched 163.1 innings in the minor leagues and he didn’t even figure it out until 2013, his sixth season in the league. Since then, he has a World Series ring, three Cy-Young awards, and seven all-star appearances in his trophy cabinet.
This also isn’t the first time a Blue Jays prospect hasn’t met lofty expectations when they started playing in the major leagues.
Roy Halladay was sent down to the minors in 2000 and would finish the year with a 10.64 ERA after making his debut two seasons prior, pitching in both the rotation and bullpen. He had a pretty darn good career overall considering his name is in the Baseball Hall of Fame as well as quite a few Blue Jays record books.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made his debut in 2019 and didn’t immediately hit home runs and find his way on base, having a batting average below .200 until his 14th major league game. He was the top prospect in baseball and honestly didn’t really start to pull it all together until this season, two years after his debut. Teoscar Hernandez had to get sent down back in 2019 and would go on to win a Silver Slugger award the next season.
I’m not suggesting that Pearson is destined to have a great career or saying he is the next Roy Halladay because he is a top prospect and did well in the minor leagues. What I am suggesting is for the doubters to excercize a little patience.
Patience when it comes to a young man trying to figure it out on the major league stage in front of an entire country and thousands of eyes judging his every pitch and every inning, especially after a wonky year given the COVID-19 pandemic obliterated the normality of a major league season in 2020.
Maybe he spends a few outings in the bullpen to find his groove again.
Maybe he goes back down to AAA and makes a few more starts to get back to his winning ways.
I don’t have the answer to why he didn’t couldn’t find the strike zone yesterday other than what we all saw on the tv, but I can for certainty say that when he is on his game, he can strike batters out and give the team quality innings (remember last year’s playoffs?).
Baseball is a hard game. Not many players make it to the major leagues, let alone the higher levels of minor league baseball. We are quick to judge players when they don’t perform well (that includes me) but hitting a 95 MPH fastball or snagging a 110 MPH line drive is hard to do, even if you have spent most of your life training for those moments. My major league dreams died in high school, just like plenty of others reading this article.
Nate Pearson is not going anywhere anytime soon. He has barely started his major league career and if this was his third or fourth season in the rotation then this would be a completely different discussion.
It just seems like some fans are ready to call it quits on the Jays top prospect or send him to the bullpen because he just isn’t “starting material” and the guy hasn’t even hit his 25th birthday yet (not everyone but you get the point). Entering the season we were talking more about how the Blue Jays were going to manage his innings but instead seem to have turned our collective frustrations towards him because of how the season just isn’t going how fans had hoped for the Blue Jays overall.
I know these points in the article aren’t aimed at every Jays fan and can see on the various social media platforms that many still support the right-hander.
Even if you disagree and think he is wasted potential given the injuries and poor performances dating to last season that’s fine, I can understand why you come to that conclusion. I may not agree, but every fan has a point where they no longer believe in a player and his ability to contribute at that level, whether it be performance, off-the-field issues, poor attitude, or ability to stay healthy, and I get that. Everyone has a point where they say “no more” and some reach that point quicker than others.
Let’s see if he can improve in his next start and go from there. See if the command improves and if he can get a strikeout and pitch like we have seen him do through almost every level of the minor leagues, whether it is in a Blue Jays or a Bison’s uniform later this week.
Take it one game at a time and see if he can get back to the basics before you decide that a 24-year-old prospect with less than 10 appearances at the major league level isn’t cut out for the rotation or a roster spot.
That’s all I am asking. Is that too much to ask for?