Nate Pearson shows what he can do for struggling Blue Jays bullpen
The Blue Jays haven't gotten the best performances from their relievers this season, but Nate Pearson's outing on Monday night showed a lot of promise.
Blue Jays starters have pitched more innings than any team in the major leagues this season.
That should leave Toronto's eight-man bullpen well-rested and in the best possible position to succeed. Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, the club's relief corps has been unreliable even though its workload has been manageable.
Toronto's relief ERA of 3.77 ranks 14th in the majors, but things have been dicier lately as that number sits at 4.73 over the last two weeks. On Sunday, the team brought a three-run lead into the eighth inning only to see it evaporate, and Monday's game ended with normally reliable closer Jordan Romano conceding a walk-off home run.
While Toronto was undoubtedly disappointed with the result on Monday, there was a silver lining in the loss as Nate Pearson's outing made it clear he might have something to say about the club's bullpen woes.
The big right-hander made his second appearance since getting called up on April 24 and blew the Boston Red Sox away for two innings. Pearson got his six outs with 29 pitches — 25 of which were four-seam fastballs.
His signature pitch averaged 97.3 mph and topped out at 100.1 mph with the Red Sox missing on seven of their 16 swings at the heater.
Nate Pearson ⛽️⛽️⛽️ pic.twitter.com/0PftlqGuzY
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 2, 2023
He absolutely pounded the zone with those fastballs, too, which is notable for a guy who's struggled with his control in the past.
It's hard to quibble with those results — especially in Pearson's first multi-inning outing in a competitive MLB or Triple-A game since June 14, 2022.
Combining Pearson's work at those two levels so far this year, he's pitched 11.1 innings with just six hits and two runs allowed. Of the 46 batters he's faced, 20 of them have gone down on strikes.
Based on what he's flashed in a couple of outings this year — plus his stellar work out of the bullpen down the stretch in 2021 — it's clear that Pearson can give a bullpen that's scuffling some quality innings. He's probably been underused thus far, and this outing invites questions about just how he should be deployed.
Pearson's background as a starter makes it tempting to use him as a multi-inning weapon. At his best, he's capable of erasing opponents for at least two frames. However, if that's his primary directive, he'll be available less often.
There's also a case from more frequent, smaller, doses of Pearson. Other than Erik Swanson, the Blue Jays' other right-handed bridges to Romano — Yimi Garcia and Anthony Bass — have combined for a 6.45 ERA this year with more meltdowns (6) than shutdowns (5). Zach Pop has looked good in high-leverage spots more often than not, but the whole situation is in flux.
Pearson has the talent to break through as a late-inning option for this squad. He might be a couple more appearances away from earning that consideration, but thanks to his eye-popping stuff he's a tempting option for the Blue Jays.
The issue there is whether the team believes a role that asks him to pitch more frequently creates more injury risk for the snake-bitten 26-year-old. That's a tough question to answer about a guy whose durability has been an issue however Toronto has used him.
Over the last few years the Blue Jays have spent a lot of time wishing Pearson would be available to them when he hasn't been. Now that he is, there's some uncertainty about the best way to use him — but that's a far better problem to have for Toronto.