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Blue Jays top prospect Nate Pearson opens eyes at camp with dominant stuff

Sportsnet logo Sportsnet 2020-02-18 Shi Davidi
a baseball player taking a swing at a ball: pearson © (Steve Nesius/CP) pearson

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Trying to glean anything of significance from early-spring bullpen sessions is a fool’s errand. There’s about as much wider-scale meaning in the daily array of mitt popping as in the rote expressions inherent to this time of year such as “throwing free easy,” “loose arms” and “the ball is coming out of his hand really well.”

Despite that, Nate Pearson’s side sessions are appointment viewing at Toronto Blue Jays camp.

The club’s No. 1 prospect features triple-digit velocity, an unfair slider, a rapidly improving curveball and changeup. His sides are so impressive that manager Charlie Montoyo took a peek the other day and said to himself, “Yup, I want to see this guy.”

“He knows what he’s doing for a young guy,” added Montoyo. “I’m really looking forward to seeing him pitch.”

Pearson will do so in due course, although the Blue Jays haven’t revealed exactly when just yet. Montoyo said Tuesday that Trent Thornton, the favourite for the fifth starter’s spot, will pitch in Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the New York Yankees.

Lefty Anthony Kay, in the mix but on the outside looking in for the fifth starter’s spot, throws Sunday against the Minnesota Twins while Shun Yamaguchi, who dominated for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan last year, takes the ball Monday in the opener at refurbished TD Ballpark.

Pearson, on the cusp of the big-leagues but not in the mix for the fifth starter’s spot right now, will be stretched out as a starter along with Jacob Waguespack, and innings will need to be handed out judiciously.

Some starters will piggyback games off one another and, eventually, minor-league games and split-squad outings will help cover off gaps.

The bigger question for Pearson is how the Blue Jays will manage his workload this upcoming season, given that he logged 101.2 innings across three levels last season, after his 2018 season was essentially wiped out by injuries.

To cope last year, the Blue Jays alternated outings of five innings and two innings for half his season before releasing the reins. In 2020, they’ll want him ready to throw an extra month of the season, too, so there will be a lot of factors for them to balance.

“Right now we’re working through some things, for sure,” said pitching coach Pete Walker. “We have some good opinions, some good ideas that we’re working through, which I’m excited about. He definitely needs to pitch and get in a good routine. That’s where you gain valuable experience and learn how to compete and all those things that are so important for a young pitcher.

“We’re all on the same page. We want to get him on a routine and not interrupt his routine.”

Said Pearson: “I’m sure we’re going to talk about it soon and hammer it down. I’m really excited to hear what they have to say, and weigh in my options, too.”

Pearson’s side Tuesday was once again impressive, spinning off several curveballs that impressed alongside his big-time stuff. A primary focal point for him in 2019 was sharpening his slider, something he worked at relentlessly, using Rapsodo data during side sessions to hone the offering in-game.

The goal for the curveball is to have the pitch come out of the same tunnel as the slider but break a different way.

“I’m constantly working on my curveball and off-speed stuff, they’ve come a long way,” said Pearson. “The curveball today was very sharp – I like where it’s at. Looking forward to seeing some hitters in there and see how they react to it, too.

“My goal is to make them both pretty elite pitches so I can go to them whenever I want, in any count. Really, with any pitch, having the confidence to throw it whenever I want.”

In the interim, Pearson is carefully soaking everything up at his first big-league camp, making sure to “absorb all they’re giving me, spending time with the major-league coaches, listening to what they’re telling me, what I need to work on, everything.

“It’s been really good,” he added.

MIGHTY MERRYWEATHER

Julian Merryweather, the right-hander acquired from Cleveland for Josh Donaldson in 2018, is a bit of a wild-card in camp. He missed most of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery and won’t be in competition for the fifth starter’s spot because of a lack of workload, but the way he’s throwing the ball is opening eyes.

“I had never seen him pitch and that ball was coming out pretty good,” said Montoyo. “When you can throw 95, 96, 97 in the bullpen, that’s impressive to me.”

For the time being, the Blue Jays are intent on developing him as a starter.

SHORT HOPS

The fifth starter’s job seems to realistically be a two-horse race right now between Trent Thornton and Shun Yamaguchi. “Trent Thornton obviously did a great job last year, pitched a lot of innings for us, gave us a lot of valuable experience and he’s in great shape this spring, so obviously a front-runner, for sure,” said Walker. “(Yamaguchi) is certainly capable of filling that spot as well. I’m sure he’s going to make starts for us this year in some capacity at some time.”… The Blue Jays are taking lots of caution with Matt Shoemaker, who is coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL last year. Montoyo said, “he’s got to do his routines moving side to side before we start him in a game.” He’s expected to be ready to start next week. … Montoyo said reliever Rafael Dolis now has his work visa in place and was to arrive Tuesday. New dad Jonathan Davis was told to get his wife and baby settled at home before reporting.

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