BRADENTON, Florida – When “100” flashed on the scoreboard in LECOM Park, fans of the Toronto Blue Jays, who were in the stands along the third baseline, burst out into a loud cheer. Nate Pearson stood on the hill and threw absolute gasoline against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He looked back over his shoulder.
“I heard everyone singing. I didn't know what they were singing about. And then I looked back and looked at the scoreboard and saw 100, ”he said. "That was good. It was the first time I've ever met it in the camp. So it was a good feeling. "
It had to be, not only for Pearson, but also for Blue Jays fans who can finally see what the club's best pitching prospects are against big league opponents. Pearson dominated the pirates over two innings in his second spring appearance on Sunday and only needed 20 pitch (15 strikes) to retire six players. He threw nasty bills and biting sliders. He was sitting 99-m.p.h. with its overwhelming fastball, which strikes twice with three digits. He was exactly as advertised.
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"Impressive. That is the word I can use. Impressive, ”said Charlie Joyo, manager of Blue Jays. "I've been in the game for a long time. You don't see weapons like that very often."
Pearson started his excursion in the fourth inning and beat Bryan Reynolds with a 98-m.p.h. Get heating on the outside edge and Adam Frazier to gently fly out to the left field with another 99-mp.h. Fastball. Then he made Josh Bell, who had an OPS of 0.936 last season with the majors, look absolutely stupid. Pearson made the 2019 All-Star sniff a first pitch of 89 o'clock. Change before he is later locked up in the at-bat with an up-and-in of 99-m.p.h. Heating that produced an awkward sword on a swing.
Pearson fell behind for a second frame and fell behind a batsman for the first time this spring before getting Gregory Polanco to look at two hits and swing through "a bad change" where he had missed his location , Brian Moran then flew on a 100-m.p.h. Heating before Jacob Stallings ground the first pitch he saw, a 99-m.p.h. Fastball in third place.
Nate Pearson is still perfect for the @BlueJays in #SpringTraining.
Number 8 in #MLB did three innings without hitting or walking and struck six Batters – three of them today.
Scouting report for rights throwing: https://t.co/LdudIbZcnE pic.twitter.com/BXLbzBmlgz
– MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 1, 2020
“It went really well. I ordered the zone. Not bad numbers. Thrown strikes with off-speed pitch. That's really all I can ask for, ”Pearson said afterwards before setting off to complete the extensive post-game arm care that he has refined over several seasons. “Two clean innings. I wanted to try to achieve that.
The results are obvious and spectacular, as Pearson has now defeated six of the nine Batters he faced this spring and the other three on two flyouts and a groundout. But it is the process that encourages the most. Pearson has started his trips to the strike zone, is immediately after the opponents and asks them to try to hit his things. Even on Sunday, when his regulated routine was interrupted by a few long early innings before the trip, Pearson looked as strong as he always did when he touched the hill.
"It's a big deal – he's going on strikes," said Montoyo. "He's on the hill. I like it. He comes right after the people.
Pearson tossed 24 of his 32 strike strikes this spring, eight of them swinging. Only one of the 9 rackets he faced has worked beyond a one-ball count. When Pearson fell behind a batsman twice, he immediately responded to a strike with a high-90 fastball.
He also shows hits in various sequences. The change in the first pitch he threw to Bell set the course for the rest of his most impressive record appearance so far this spring, as Bell obviously didn't know what might come next. This way Pearson got the uncomfortable third blow he made. In this way he made Polanco swing through a mistake he had left on the plate.
It's March 1st and Nate Pearson is already out here throwing such pitches. pic.twitter.com/h97roPMMbH
– Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 1, 2020
"It only gives me such a big advantage because I can go so many different ways," said Pearson about using an off-speed weapon for a first strike. "They really don't know where I'm going next. I can throw a hard fastball from them or I can switch, switch. Really, the ball is in my place after this first hit."
Pearson was so dominant this spring that he hadn't even thrown his Curveball into a game – never found an opportunity to use his fourth offer. If need be, Pearson will knock it in for first hits or bury it under the zone for later swinging and missing at plate appearances. He was ready to throw it on Sunday. He just didn't get there.
Pearson spends his winter refining all of these secondary weapons and using rapsodo units to measure the spin efficiency and breakage of his pitches. He's spent long days in pitch design sessions at Driveline Baseball, messing around with tiny grip and release tweaks to make his pitches nastier and more even.
Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet's baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together they bring you the most extensive Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering the latest news with opinions and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.
It's easy to dream of Pearson's potential when you see his breathtaking speed – but it is these secondary pitches that really determine the success of his career. Many jugs throw hard. More than 40 were 97 m.p.h. on average or higher with their fastballs in last season's majors. But none of them showed two different breaking pitches that they could throw for strikes, as well as a change that subsided in the zone and was as hard as Hyun-Jin Ryu's fastball.
If Pearson wants to be a starter on the front lines and not just a dominant helper who throws gas out of the bullpen, he has to master these offers well in order to have various options for pushing Batters away. That's why he works so hard to monitor the spin and motion data gathered during his side sessions and games.
Speed is the easy part. Pearson hardly thinks about it on the hill and instead focuses on his grip on the seams, arm angle and mechanics. The three-digit gas fans, who were enthusiastic until Sunday, will of course come when he nailed the rest. The crowd can react if he places a large figure on the scoreboard. But it's the last thing Pearson is worried about on the hill.
"I'm just trying to stay inside, you know? Clean mechanics. Don't try to get out of hand, ”he said. "As soon as I start being a pitcher, I start spraying the ball and getting bad counts. I'm trying to get that first shot. So I'm trying to keep my mechanics as simple and clean as possible.
“When I am healthy, I can meet [100-m.p.h.] pretty easily. I get to the camp pretty finished. My bike comes pretty quickly when I get back and everything. The command is what I want to focus on once I've thrown and rebuilt. The bike is pretty easy for me. "