Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays’ Nate Pearson pitches as advertised in his MLB debut

Nate Pearson impressed in his MLB debut at Nationals Park.

Nate Pearson took a moment to stand by the pitching mound at Nationals Park on Tuesday. The big right-hander was just 24 hours away from making his Major League debut for the Toronto Blue Jays and wanted to take in the whole atmosphere and imagine what it would be like when he went up against Max Scherzer and the defending champion Washington Nationals.

Whatever test the Blue Jays wanted their top prospect to pass on Wednesday, he did so easily. Using a combination of an upper 90s fastball and devastating slider, Pearson dominated the Nationals, pitching five shutout innings and striking out five.

He made an early statement. The first batter Pearson faced was Trea Turner, a career .292 hitter. He struck him out swinging on a slider. Pearson didn’t allow a hit until an infield single by Turner with two outs in the third inning.

Even when he found himself in a jam, Pearson knew how to recover. With Eric Thames on third base with one out in the fourth, he got Starlin Castro to line out, then struck out Carter Kieboom looking with a 98 mph fastball at the knees.

Pearson retired the final six batters he faced, three of them by strikeout. He allowed only two hits and walked two. That last pitch to Kieboom is exemplary of why the Blue Jays have such high hopes for their 23-year-old, 6-foot-6 pitcher. Pearson’s fastball averaged 96 mph on Wednesday, which is low for him; he was routinely around 98 and even touched 104 in a game while in the minors. Still, only six starters — Noah Syndergaard, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Walker Buehler, and Luis Castillo — threw harder than 96 last season. Pearson got better and faster as the game progressed. After being around 95 in the first inning, he ramped it up to 98 by the fifth.

The hype surrounding Pearson’s debut didn’t reach the same intensity as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. did last year, but he has the potential to be just as dominant. MLB Pipeline gives his fastball a perfect 80/80 rating and ranks him as the eighth-best prospect in baseball entering the 2020 season. Opponents hit just .176 against him in the minors last season, eighth-best among pitchers with at least 100 innings. He was the Blue Jays’ best pitcher in Spring Training back in March, giving up just two hits over seven innings while striking out 11 in four appearances.

The Blue Jays kept Pearson off their Opening Day roster, as they did with Guerrero, to preserve club control control for another year. By keeping him down for five extra days, Pearson won’t hit free agency until 2026. They had to wait a week to see him in a big-league game. His effort was wasted as the Blue Jays lost in extra innings 4-0, but it was still well worth it. Pearson has said he perfectly understands the Blue Jays decision and was focused only on enjoying the moment when he finally stepped on a big-league mound.

“Obviously, I’ll probably get nervous tomorrow leading up to the game. It will be good nerves like excitement,” he said on the eve of his debut. “Just enjoy being up in the big leagues for the first time. I know my parents won’t be able to be here, friends and family will only be able to watch me on TV and everything. But still, enjoy it because I’m about to achieve a dream and a goal that I’ve had since I was little. Just enjoy this whole process.”

He was excited to get the ball on Wednesday. And after what he did to the defending champs, the Blue Jays should be too.

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