WASHINGTON — Expectations were sky-high for Nate Pearson‘s big-league debut Wednesday night at Nationals Park.
With five shutout innings, an eyebrow-raising fastball and the ability to throw quality breaking pitches in pressure spots, Pearson showed he belonged on the big stage against the reigning World Series champions.
Washington eventually spoiled Toronto’s home opener with a 4-0, 10th-inning win, but praise for the young Blue Jays right-hander came from all corners after the game.
“There’s nothing better for a manager than saying, ‘Man, we may have a chance to win every five days,'” said Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo. “That’s what I thought today when he was pitching those five innings.”
Nationals manager Dave Martinez was also impressed.
“Toronto’s got a good one there,” he said. “He’s got a good live fastball. He threw some really good breaking balls. He’s going to be really good.”
Washington starter Max Scherzer was equally sharp on a hot evening in the U.S. capital, working 7 1/3 scoreless innings as the Blue Jays (3-3) were shut out for the first time this season.
Yamaguchi (0-2) nearly got out of the 10th inning unscathed after walking Carter Kieboom and Andrew Stevenson to load the bases. Pinch-runner Emilio Bonifacio started the frame on second base.
After back-to-back strikeouts, Adam Eaton hit a hard comebacker that Cavan Biggio scooped up before diving to second base to try to beat Stevenson for the force. Toronto challenged the safe call but the decision was upheld with Bonifacio scoring the game’s first run.
Tanner Rainey worked the 10th to preserve the shutout for the Nationals (2-4), who will go for a split of the four-game series on Thursday afternoon.
Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, struck out 10 and allowed three hits. Daniel Hudson (1-0) recorded five outs for the win.
The Blue Jays will play so-called home games in road parks until the team’s 2020 home at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field is ready on Aug. 11. A team proposal to play home games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre was kiboshed by the government before the season due to concerns about COVID-19.
It made for a most unusual feel as Toronto played in its home white uniforms. The team’s stadium operations crew sent player introduction recordings to Washington so the Blue Jays would have more of a home-field feel.
In one particularly odd moment, “OK Blue Jays” was played during the seventh-inning stretch.
Pearson, a six-foot-six right-hander, kept the Nationals off-balance throughout his appearance, giving up two hits, two walks and striking out five. On an 80-pitch count for his debut, he threw 48 of 75 pitches for strikes.
“I had a little bit of everything working,” Pearson said. “Fastball command was there at times when I needed it. It still wasn’t where I wanted it to be. But man, my slider was on tonight. That was my big pitch.
“It got me out of a lot of jams and I got some big strikeouts on it.”
Pearson said he felt comfortable from the start and he showed no sign of early jitters.
“I was taking it all in in the first inning,” he said. “Looking around, just taking mental pictures of where I was at.”
Pearson started with a bang, opening with a 95-m.p.h. fastball on the corner before getting Trea Turner to wave at two breaking balls for the strikeout.
Relying primarily on his heater and slider, Pearson mixed in the occasional curveball and change-up over his appearance. He reached 99 m.p.h. in the second inning and retired the side in order.
“His makeup is very good and his command is very good,” Montoyo said. “I think those two things are what good pitchers have and he’s got it.”
Pearson allowed an infield single to Turner in the third and a leadoff double to Eric Thames in the fourth. Thames advanced to third but Pearson struck out Kieboom on three pitches to end the threat, capping it with a 99-m.p.h. fastball at the knees.
Pearson, 23, fanned two more batters in the fifth and Turner flew out to end the inning. The first-round draft pick was all smiles in the dugout afterward as teammates, Montoyo and pitching coach Pete Walker congratulated him on the effort.
Simply put, the youngster was as advertised.
“For a young guy, he’s really confident and that’s great,” Montoyo said. “I loved what I saw.”
The Blue Jays nearly got on the board in the eighth inning. Scherzer retired 13 in a row before giving up a leadoff single to Joe Panik.
Anthony Alford came on as a pinch-runner, stole second and moved to third on a wide pickoff attempt. With his pitch count at 112, Scherzer was pulled after walking Derek Fisher.
Hudson, a former Blue Jay, got Teoscar Hernandez to ground into a double play and struck out the side in the ninth.
By not selecting Pearson’s contract until Wednesday, he will not get a full year of service time in 2020 and his free-agent eligibility won’t begin until after the 2026 campaign.
The 28th overall pick in the 2017 draft, Pearson opened the season on the three-man taxi squad. He split last year between class-A Dunedin, double-A New Hampshire and triple-A Buffalo.
It’s possible that Pearson could make 10-12 starts over the course of the regular season, which has been shortened to 60 games due to the pandemic.
Notes: Before the game, the Blue Jays optioned left-hander Brian Moran to the team’s taxi squad to make room for Pearson. … Toronto shortstop Bo Bichette (hamstring) and outfielder Randal Grichuk (back) remain day to day with injuries. … Rowdy Tellez was ejected in the 10th inning for arguing after a strikeout. Blue Jays coach Dante Bichette was also kicked out. … The Blue Jays will get an off-day Friday before a Saturday doubleheader in Philadelphia. Toronto will again serve as the home team for the three-game series.