The Blue Jays may have lost Hyun Jin Ryu to the Injured List again after he left last night’s game with forearm tightness. That’s bad news for pretty much everyone, but there could be a silver lining for a former top pitching prospect in Toronto.
You can be forgiven if you’ve almost forgotten that Nate Pearson is on this team, as we have yet to see the hard-throwing righty in the big leagues this year. The Blue Jays had hoped this would be the year he’d be able to stay healthy and pitch up to his potential, so naturally he picked up mono during Spring Training and hasn’t been able to make it all the way back just yet.
The good news is that Pearson has been progressing lately, and yesterday he was moved to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons as part of his continued rehab assignment. I’m sure the Blue Jays won’t rush him given his injury history, but if Ryu is hitting the IL again then the need for a guy like Pearson could be even more prevalent.
You might be thinking, “but surely Ross Stripling would be added to the rotation first, right?”, and I think you’d be correct with that assumption. Stripling has filled a variety of roles for Charlie Montoyo and Pete Walker this season, and he has a history as a capable starter, including this year. My guess is he’ll be the first man up if Ryu misses time again, which sounded likely based on the comments on last night’s broadcast from Dan Shulman and Pat Tabler.
However, if Stripling moves into the rotation then the Blue Jays would have an opening in their bullpen, specifically in a long-man role. Truthfully, this might not be a bad option to ease Pearson back into the rigours of playing in the big leagues anyway, as he’d be joining the roster with the rest of baseball almost one third of the way through the season. It would give him some time to get more up to speed, potentially build up his innings count (although that’s more difficult in a relief role), and most importantly, fill an important need for the Blue Jays.
That last point is more important for Pearson than it’s been in the past. For several years he’s been viewed as one of the top young arms in the organization, and someone that they could hopefully build the rotation around. Alek Manoah long passed him as the top young arm in Toronto these days, and now Pearson may be approaching the point in his career that he’ll need to prove he belongs at the highest level. That’s quite the change from where he was even a year or two ago, and now he’ll be joining a team that’s right in the thick of the playoff race in 2022.
It wouldn’t shock me if Pearson ends up in the rotation at some point this season, whether there are more injuries or not. There’s no doubt that he has elite talent in that right arm of his, it’s always been a matter of whether he can stay healthy enough to pitch to his potential. With what looks like another injury that could put Ryu back on the IL for a while, I hope Pearson is getting ready for what could be a career-defining opportunity. The Blue Jays could certainly use him.