How the Blue Jays can effectively use Nate Pearson in 2023

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles - Game One
Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles - Game One / G Fiume/GettyImages

Nate Pearson, just two seasons removed from being a top ten prospect in all of baseball, has struggled through his brief initial stint in the majors due to injuries, though he has all the potential in the world to become a dominant relief pitcher. The 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher holds a 2-1 record to go with his 5.18 ERA and 1.606 WHIP through just 33 innings of MLB work across two seasons.

Pearson’s fastball is his bread and butter, consistently reaching triple digits. The pitch has maxed out at 104 MPH and pairs nicely with a hard mid-80’s slider and a still-developing changeup, allowing for a diverse arsenal of pitches. Pearson has proven his ability to strike batters out with a K/9 rate above 9.00 at all levels of competition, including the majors, though a very limited sample size.

The former top prospect has been riddled with injuries throughout his young career including a broken ulna bone in 2018, Tommy John surgery in 2020, a sports hernia in 2021 and a combination of mononucleosis and a lat strain kept him off the Blue Jays’ mound completely in 2022. He has since battled back while looking stellar across his 12 innings of work in the Dominican Winter League just two months ago in November, surrendering just one run while striking out 16 batters.

After his encouraging stint in the Dominican Winter League, and the Jays' need for a hard-throwing, multi-inning reliever out of the bullpen, Pearson could become a very useful weapon for the Blue Jays this season as injuries occur and more pitchers are relied upon.

The now-26-year-old has only been able to throw 33 innings for the Blue Jays, and while the ultimate goal for Pearson is to have him develop into a quality starting pitcher, his recent track record of injuries and overall lack of playing time could have him end up in the bullpen this season. Limiting his innings, while giving him valuable experience at the major league level is exactly what Pearson needs right now. Though the Jays should have a competition for the fifth starting pitcher role, that job is likely to be filled by either Yusei Kikuchi or Mitch White, making it hard to see where Pearson would fit in.

Should the Jays give Pearson the opportunity to pitch in the majors this season, it presumably comes as a reliever with a chance to prove himself in a limited capacity. Having him attempt to throw his triple-digit fastball for a bulk of innings has not allowed him to throw more than 100 innings in a full calendar year since 2019. Rather, having him throw for a single inning or two at a time throwing only 25 pitches, while still blowing batters away with his fastball is a better use of his abilities at this time.

The team leader a season ago in average fastball velocity from the bullpen belonged to Julian Merryweather, who has since been DFA'd by the team. Another flame-throwing option the Jays have is Junior Fernández (who was also DFA'd), acquired via waivers from the Yankees, who averaged 98.8 MPH, though he himself only holds a 5.17 ERA through 54 major league innings pitched. Pearson's average fastball clocks in at 96 MPH with the ability to reach triple-digits, which would rank him second on the team behind only closing pitcher Jordan Romano who averaged 96.9 MPH.

With the bullpen constantly needing improvement, Pearson could become the shutdown, multi-inning guy the Jays have been looking for for years. Availability is the best ability, and Pearson has not shown his ability to stay available yet, though his presence on the mound and ability to miss bats would make for a great long relief option should a starting pitcher struggle early into a start. Barring his health, Pearson could be an extremely important long relief option this season.

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