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Jays' Pearson plays up in Double-A debut

No. 71 overall prospect allows two hits, fans eight in five frames
Nate Pearson entered the Eastern League with 62 strikeouts over 42 2/3 professional innings. (Joshua Tjiong/MiLB.com)
May 7, 2019

Exactly one year ago Tuesday, Nate Pearson made his Florida State League debut. And exactly one year ago Tuesday, a line drive struck him on the arm and caused him to miss the rest of the regular season. But that was the furthest thing from his mind during his first Eastern League start.The Blue

Exactly one year ago Tuesday, Nate Pearson made his Florida State League debut. And exactly one year ago Tuesday, a line drive struck him on the arm and caused him to miss the rest of the regular season. But that was the furthest thing from his mind during his first Eastern League start.
The Blue Jays' No. 3 prospect allowed two hits and struck out eight over five scoreless innings as Double-A New Hampshire fell to Portland, 4-2, at Hadlock Field.

"I had no clue," he said, referring to the anniversary of the injury. "I remember last week just reading about Corey Kluber and how he had basically the same injury I did last year and how crazy that is."

But hearing that 365 days had passed allowed him to contemplate how far he'd come in that time.
"I'm very blessed, very blessed last year to have gone through that," Pearson said. "Obviously, it [stunk], but I learned a lot from it. Learned a lot about recovery and my body and, yeah, I sat out a whole year, but it didn't go unnoticed and it didn't delay me at all. I got better at other areas of my game and that's what I tried to incorporate this year. So far, I've done a pretty good job of it."
The right-hander breezed through his first turn through lineup, retiring the first 10 Sea Dogs -- six via punchouts -- before Cody Asche lined a single to right field with one out in the fourth.
"I think in the second inning I threw quite a bit of really good changeups to lefties," he said. "I was like, 'All right, I got a good three-pitch mix going.' So I just tried to keep them on their toes and not settle into a routine. Just kept mixing it up good and just kept getting outs."
Red Sox No. 22 prospect Marcus Wilson singled through the left side with two outs in the fifth and Pearson moved him to second with a wild pitch on the first offering to Jhon Nunez. MLB.com's No. 71 overall prospect fanned Nunez to cap his inaugural Double-A start in style. 
Pearson threw 46 of 72 pitches for strikes and touched 100 mph with his 75-grade fastball near the end of the outing. The five innings he went Tuesday fell in line with the "5-2" approach Toronto has taken with him this season. The length of each outing for the 22-year-old has alternated between five and two innings.
Gameday box score
Before Tuesday, all of those outings were below the Double-A level. His final start for Class A Advanced Dunedin was Thursday, the day of his promotion. The Jays were playing in Daytona, so he and 30th-ranked prospect Riley Adams, who also was promoted, drove back to Dunedin, packed their bags and caught what sleep they could before hopping on a plane to New Hampshire. 
"We get to the field and it's cold and rainy," the 2017 first-round pick said. "We watched the game. That's what it's been like the last few nights and tonight got a little taste of what they've been going through the first part of the season." 
Rain delayed the contest against Portland by more than an hour. The Tampa native said the last time he pitched outside the Sunshine State was a rehab start for Class A Lansing during an exhibition against Michigan State in September. Weather wasn't an issue that day.
Pearson departed the FSL's more favorable climes with a 0.86 ERA, 0.62 WHIP and .139 opponents' batting average. He was 3-0 with 35 strikeouts and three walks over 21 innings.
The jump from Class A Advanced to Double-A is often considered the steepest for prospects to endure. Pearson heard the same and sought advice from the other starters on the Fisher Cats staff. 
"They said it's not that big of a difference, you just can't make as many mistakes. You get punished more often on the mistakes you leave over the middle," the Junior College of Central Florida said. "Other than that, they told me to compete and be myself and that I'd be all right. So that's what I tried to do -- just calm the nerves and have fun. That's what my pitching coach [Vince Horsman] told me today. He was like, 'I just want you to have fun.'" 
"He looked good tonight. He had a good presence out there for his first game in Double-A, mixed his pitches well," Horsman said. "Very impressed with the quality and execution of the changeup. He attacked hitters from the get-go, looked like a big leaguer out there -- always in control." 
The aversion to walks followed him north as Pearson did not issue a free pass. The 6-foot-6 hurler made a significant adjustment in the Arizona Fall League by completely eliminating his windup. Pitching strictly from the stretch has led to the practically pinpoint control he displayed Tuesday. 
"I started doing that my last two starts in the Fall League" he said. "Ever since I've done that, my control has just been a lot better. I just carried that over to this season in Spring Training." 

With the slider and changeup firing on all cylinders, Pearson sees a chance to work with Horsman on utilizing his curveball. 
"I haven't been throwing it a lot just because it's so far behind my other three pitches," he said. "My slider and changeup have been very good, but I think my curveball is my next step I'm going to hammer down here with [Horsman]."
It was a winding road to get to New Hampshire. In 2018, Pearson's full-season debut was delayed by back tightness. He fractured his right unla 1 2/3 innings into his start last May 7, then tried to salvage some of the lost time in the AFL. He posted a 6.20 ERA in six starts but struck out 23 over 20 1/3 frames.
No. 3 Red Sox prospectBobby Dalbec hit a go-ahead two-run triple in the sixth, while Asche and ninth-ranked C.J. Chatham contributed RBI singles for the Sea Dogs.