Nate Pearson's stats on the mound speak for themselves, but Class A Advanced Dunedin pitching coach Jim Czajkowski says Toronto's third-ranked prospect has garnered all this early success because of extra effort that finds him in some elite company.
"The game is the fun part -- the big test -- but everything this kid does between starts is phenomenal," Czajkowski said. "I've coached a lot of good pitchers that are future Hall of Famers and I'll put him right up there. With his work ethic, what he does in between his starts, how he diets, his weight lifting program, he's done a fantastic job."
Training tirelessly off the field, Pearson is reaping the rewards on it. The right-hander used all that preparation and fanned a career-high 10, allowing just one hit and a walk over five innings to lead Class A Advanced Dunedin in a 18-0 drubbing over Jupiter at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.
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Getting the most out of his 75-grade fastball, which Czajkowski said topped out at 102 mph Thursday, Pearson was able to mix in effective sliders and changeups throughout the outing. As the repertoire was working seemingly from the jump, Jupiter's lineup had little chance to touch the lethal offerings.
Two homers have been hit off Pearson this season, so his Dunedin coach said it was a good development for the starter to get his breaking ball and off-speed pitches working to keep the opposing lineup off balance.
"His fastball and slider were spot-on," Czajkowski said. "And those two pitches, the combination that he uses them, it was literally untouchable because guys were guessing fastball. ... They were trying to get to [the fastball] and he kept putting sliders in there and they were missing it by a foot. He did a real nice job, the changeup was awesome today too."
Pearson (3-0), who was limited to two innings in his last start, was back to dominant form against the Hammerheads. He faced three over the minimum in what matched his longest start of the season. He pounded the zone with 50 strikes out of 72 total pitches, recording three perfect innings in the process.
It didn't take MLB.com's No. 72 overall prospect to find a groove as he retired the first 11 batters on the night. With two down in the fourth inning, Riley Mahan drew a six-pitch walk to break up the stretch. Pearson never wavered, though, getting Lazaro Alonso to strike out swinging to end the frame.
Czajkowski was impressed with Pearson's aggressiveness and ability to put hitters away in quick succession. It also helped that the 2017 first-round pick got ahead with 12 first-pitch strikes.
"In warmups on the side, I wouldn't have known it was going to be that good today. He was staked to a 6-0 lead in the first inning, so I think the pressure was off to throw quality pitches," Czajkowski said. "It may have relaxed him a little bit, but he was outstanding with the way he went about his business."
Jupiter had its best chance to break through against the right-hander in the subsequent frame. James Nelson reached on a fielding error by third baseman Samad Taylor and Isael Soto doubled to right field. In the toughest moment of the game, Pearson shined brightest with three consecutive punchouts on 11 pitches to keep Jupiter out of the run column. Ramping up his fastball intro triple digits in that frame helped him work out of his only jam of the night.
The strikeout totals have been high this year for Pearson, but his pitch totals haven't veered off track. In fact, Pearson's stinginess has been a trademark early this year. In his three starts that have gone five innings, the Odessa, Florida, native has averaged 70 pitches.
"I'm just as impressed [with this outing] as when he struck out nine on 59 pitches in his last five-inning stint. That's really tough to do," Czajkowski said. "Today, he had 10 on 72 pitches. A strikeout guy is usually throwing a lot of pitches, getting deep in counts and stuff like that. But it's just not the case -- he goes right at them. There's three-pitch strikeouts, four-pitch strikeouts, he does a real good job of keeping his pitch count down."
2019 MiLB include
With 30 strikeouts this season, Pearson is tied with Clearwater's Spencer Howard for second (three behind Tampa's Deivi Garcia) in the Florida State League in that category. Five more scoreless innings brought the 22-year-old's ERA down to 0.95. In 19 innings with Dunedin this year, Pearson has yielded nine hits and two walks.
Following a 2018 in which injuries limited him to 1 2/3 innings, the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder hasn't shown any signs of rust this April. Pearson has been an imposing force at the outset, and Czajkowski feels his charge will only improve as the year moves along.
"We're working on some pitches, sharpening them and getting them better," the pitching coach added. "The slider is one of those pitches we're working on. If I were a schoolteacher, it would have been an A+ for the day. He absolutely aced the test with his slider today. And then we'll go somewhere else, we'll find another pitch to work on and we'll go work on it."
There was plenty of offensive support to back Pearson as every starter recorded at least one hit, with six of the starting nine collecting three hits. Riley Adams, who stands third on the circuit with a .360 average, blasted a grand slam during his 3-for-5 effort. Demi Orimoloye drove in four runs, ripping a double and two singles.
No. 24 Blue Jays prospect Ryan Noda added three hits, three RBIs and three runs scored while No. 30 Kevin Vicuna had two hits and three runs scored.