Nate Pearson's early performances out of the Blue Jays bullpen are highly encouraging

Chicago White Sox v Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago White Sox v Toronto Blue Jays / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages

So far in 2023 the Blue Jays bullpen has been underwhelming, highlighted by ranking just 17th in ERA through May 4. This is made more disappointing, when considering the relievers are well-rested, having combined for the fewest innings in the Majors as of May 4.

This is not to say the Blue Jays haven't had their plus points in the bullpen. For example, the likes of Erik Swanson and Tim Mayza have pitched well to date.

Regardless, the relievers as a collective need to pitch better, in order to help the Blue Jays' challenge for the postseason. Step forward Nate Pearson.

A new direction

Pearson was at one time a top prospect for the Blue Jays. Selected in the first round of the 2017 draft, he was projected to be a long-term answer who had top-of-the-rotation level talent.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, this did not play out as planned. Factors such as Pearson's inconsistent location and various injury issues forced the Blue Jays to take a different approach.

More specifically, the decision was made to move the 26-year-old in the bullpen. This resulted in a new lease on life.

During the final month of the 2021 season, Pearson made 11 appearances out of the bullpen for a combined 12.2 innings. The returns were impressive, as Pearson only allowed 10 hits and five runs, including four earned. He also recorded 20 strikes and just seven walks.

Unfortunately for the righty, he was unable to continue his momentum into the 2022
campaign. He suffered a late strain injury and saw no action in the Majors for the entire season.

Renewed optimism

Fast forward to this year and, fully recovered, Pearson got off to an excellent start in Triple-A Buffalo. In 8.1 innings spread over eight appearances, he allowed just five hits and two runs, to go along with
16 strikeouts and five walks.

As such, when it finally came time for the Blue Jays to make a change in the bullpen, Pearson was the ideal candidate to recall. And since arriving in Toronto on Apr. 24, the early returns have been extremely promising.

In his first appearance versus the Chicago White Sox, Pearson came through with a clean inning. He allowed no hits, walks or runs, while striking out one.

During his second appearance, the Odessa, Florida native looked even better. In two innings, he allowed just the one hit, no walks and – most importantly – no runs.

Pearson mostly relied on his four-seam fastball against the Boston Red Sox, which reached as high as 100.1 mph. He caused seven missed swings and three strikeouts on his 29 pitches.

A pressure situation for Pearson

Pearson's third and most recent appearance came on May 4, again versus the Red Sox. This time he was brought in during the bottom of the seventh, facing a two-out, bases loaded situation.

This was a good test for Pearson to contend with, as one bad pitch could have resulted in an extremely ugly outcome. Instead, he came through by forcing a fly out to end the inning.

The Blue Jays kept Pearson in for the eighth inning, where he gave up two hits and a run. However, the run was recorded as unearned, due to coming about as a result of an earlier throwing error.

In addition, Pearson allowed no walks and struck out one batter in 1.1 innings. In all, he has allowed just three hits, no walks and a 0.00 ERA, while striking out five in 4.1 combined innings.

A more relaxed outlook

It will be interesting to see how the Blue Jays utilize Pearson in the bullpen moving forward. Understandably, any such decisions will be impacted by his ability to remain healthy.

For what it's worth, Pearson seems more relaxed these days. As per Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun, he said:

"I definitely feel different and I’m happy to get this opportunity again. It’s been a long journey for me. Last year was a long year with a lot of time in rehab and I realized I had to find a way to get guys out. You can’t survive on talent and velocity alone."

It probably helps that Pearson no longer feels the same pressure, either from himself or others.

"All those years as a top prospect, I had big expectations of myself and I let myself get too far ahead. I definitely have a different mindset now. It’s focused on the day-to-day and let the opportunities take care of themselves."

Pearson may no longer be destined to become a staff ace, but it doesn't mean he won't be a success. He is on a different path now, but the Blue Jays can still benefit from his undoubted talent.