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Nate Pearson announced his presence with authority in his first major league game, facing multiple Cy Young-Award winning pitcher Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals on July 29, 2020. Pearson, the Blue Jays’ #1 prospect, has had a storied minor league career and is considered to be one of the top 10 prospects and top two prospect pitchers in baseball.
To make room for Pearson on the 40-man (and 30-man) roster, lefty Brian Moran was optioned to the minors and was sent to the taxi squad.
Pearson started the game with some rust, struggling to throw his fastball for strikes but his slider was deadly in the very early going. He struck out lead-off man Trea Turner with two sliders, get a swing and miss for the K before walking Adam Eaton on four straight balls. He induced a groundout to first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on his slider from Asdrubal Cabrera and got Eric Thames to fly out to left field on another slider.
The slider, in particular was excellent in the first inning as Pearson struggled to locate his fastball, missing up and to his arm side frequently. He did settle down for some better strikes with the fastball towards the later part of the inning and used 17 pitches in the first inning (10 for strikes).
In his second inning, he opened against Kurt Suzuki with a good 95-mph fastball in the low-outside corner before breaking off a nasty slider that got a swing and a miss. Pearson followed that with a 98-mph fastball up out of the zone that Suzuki grounded to third for the first out of the inning.
Against second hitter Starlin Castro, Pearson again hit 99 mph at the top of the zone, as Castro fouled off a couple of high fastballs before grounding out to short on a slider.
Carter Kieboom batted sixth and watched a couple of fastballs sail inside before he threw a 2-0 slider for strike one. He just missed with a slider for the count to go to 3-1 and got a second strike (swinging) on a 94-mph fastball on the outside corner. Pearson finished Kieboom off with a fastball in, clocking in at 96 mph, getting him a three-up, three-down inning.
Pearson started the third by giving up a deep fly ball to Andrew Stevenson that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. caught up to in left centre field, calling off Teoscar Hernandez. He went 1-1 to Victor Robles before getting a high pop up to Vladimir Guerrero to get his second out. Trea Turner came back and had a hard time keeping from swinging at Pearson’s fastball, which was hitting 98 mph. Turner worked the count back to 2-2 before throwing a slider that got hit hard to shortstop with Santiago Espinal getting caught on the heel of his glove for the first hit of the game for Washington. Pearson walked Adam Eaton for the second time on five pitches, giving the Nationals runners on first and second with two outs. Asdrubal Cabrera grounded to second base with a 1-1 count, hitting a slider and Pearson escaped his third inning without allowing a run, bringing him to 48 pitches and 29 strikes.
Eric Thames led off the fourth and took the first curveball (at 77 mph) that Pearosn threw in the game. Pearson followed it up with an 86-mph changeup but it sailed up and away to the lefthanded hitting Thames, who rapped a fastball up in the zone into right field for a double on the next pitch. Kurt Suzuki got up with a runner in scoring position and was started with a couple of changeups out of the strike zone. Suzuki hit the third pitch, a 95-mph fastball up in the zone, on the ground up over second base, but fortunately the Blue Jays were shifted and Cavan Biggio was able to make the play to first for the first out.
Pearson threw a slider in the dirt that Jansen blocked well to start Starlin Castro with a ball. Castro lined out to Biggio, with the infield drawn in, giving the Jays two outs and the opportunity to get out of the top of the fourth inning still tied at zero with the Nationals. Kieboom came to the plate, taking a slider for a strike and swinging through a 97-mph fastball on the outside corner. Pearson rung Kieboom up with a 99-fastball that was probably one of his best of the night, out over the plate and at the bottom of the strike zone.
Through four innings, Pearson had allowed two hits and two walks with 59 pitchers (36 strikes).
Andrew Stevenson led off the fifth and got behind 0-2 with a slider and a good changeup that got a swinging strike. After wasting a changeup that was out of the zone, he threw a slider that got a check-swing strike to strike out Stevenson for his fourth strikeout.
Victor Robles couldn’t check his swing on a slider down and out of the zone but looked at a 98 mph fastball that was just down and out of the strike zone to even the count at 1-1. Another low slider and another empty swing made it 1-2 on Robles. Pearson kept going to the slider for a ball and a foul, and threw a fastball that Robles fouled off. Robles fouled another one and Pearson threw one very high to run the count full. An 83-mph slider struck out Robles for Pearson’s fifth strikeout, ending a tough fight.
Leadoff man Trea Turner swing and missed a good curveball and he fouled off a 96-mph fastball up and in. Pearson threw a slider low and on the outside of the plate and got Turner to pop up to right field, ending the inning.
Pearson got through his five innings with 75 pitches (48 strikes) and gave up just two hits and two walks with five strikeouts. Pearson also showed that he was a little “up” for the first inning, having trouble finding his release point, but he settled down nicely and, when he started to bring in his changeup and curveball, really made things difficult for the Nationals hitters.
I think when he really matures and is able to go deeper into games, we’re going to see Pearson’s command sharpen. In his first MLB game, Pearson had good control but didn’t always show “command,” that is, being able to pick spots with some consistency within the strike zone.
Facing Nationals’ Max Scherzer ace, we really see what we hope Pearson can become. Scherzer is a hard thrower and commands multiple pitches and he put on a clinic against the Blue Jays.
The future is bright with Pearson and his first MLB start showed us how bright it can be.
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