With pitching staff in flux, Nate Pearson set to join Blue Jays’ rotation


Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Nate Pearson. (Frank Franklin II/CP)

TORONTO – In recent days, as Blue Jays decision makers attempted to map out their pitching plans for the week ahead, Nate Pearson‘s name started surfacing more and more.

For the first five days of the season, Pearson was technically on the Blue Jays’ three-player taxi squad, which meant he was able to train alongside the team but unable to play for it. But the Blue Jays didn’t want Pearson to wait too long without facing live hitters, so they started discussing the possibility that his long-awaited MLB debut could come this week. After Monday’s win over the Nationals, manager Charlie Montoyo made it official: Pearson will make his long-awaited debut in Washington Wednesday.

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With Pearson’s debut approaching rapidly, an injury to closer Ken Giles and reinforcements in the form of Ryan Borucki and Wilmer Font, the Blue Jays’ pitching staff was already in flux just four days into the season.

This much is clear: Giles is on the injured list after leaving Sunday’s game with soreness in his pitching elbow and Anthony Bass will likely close for now while the Blue Jays await word on the severity of Giles’ injury.

“He didn’t feel that bad, but we’ve got to wait for the MRI,” Montoyo said. “Any time there’s elbow soreness, there’s concern about it. He had it last year, so we’re not only concerned for the team but for Kenny Giles because he’s probably one of my favourite players here. So we just hope he’s fine, but yeah. There’s concern.”

By placing Giles on the injured list and Travis Shaw on family medical leave, the Blue Jays created room on the roster for Borucki and Font. While Borucki competed for a rotation spot in summer camp, he may be used to cover the middle innings for the time being (Thomas Hatch, who impressed in Sunday’s start, could fill a similar role once he gets a few days of rest).

After all, there’s no clear opening in the Blue Jays’ rotation just now and Pearson will add to that mix further when he starts on Wednesday. The timing of the debut is significant for a few reasons, none of which seem coincidental.

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On paper Wednesday was Hyun-Jin Ryu’s start day, but the Blue Jays like the idea of giving the left-hander an extra day, something the Dodgers did for 22 of his 29 starts when he led the NL in ERA in 2019. If Chase Anderson was fully healthy, Wednesday might have been his Blue Jays debut, but instead he’ll throw a simulated game that day while he builds back up from oblique soreness.

Plus, by Wednesday, Pearson will have spent five days off the major-league roster. As such, he’ll accrue a maximum of 61 days of MLB service time in 2020 (three in July, 31 in August, 27 in September). Given that players need at least 62 days to obtain a full year of service this summer, this brief delay will extend the Blue Jays’ club control over Pearson by a full year through 2026.

Regardless, Pearson’s debut will surely be compelling considering his stature as one of the game’s top pitching prospects. In the meantime, the Blue Jays will turn to Tanner Roark, who was signed to help stabilize the rotation last winter.

Now 33, Roark said he’s looking forward to testing himself in a game that counts for the first time since signing his two-year, $24 million deal with the Blue Jays. The suspended season allowed him to spend more time with his three kids, aged 2, 5 and 10. Now it’s back to business against the defending World Series winners.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

“It took me a while to get ramped back up,” he said. “It’s the first time in 10 years I’ve been able to spend this much time with my wife and kids, so I was enjoying that and my wife was definitely enjoying that, too. She had a lot more help in the summertime, which normally she never does. So I was being a dad number one for sure, a husband second and trying to maintain my workload.”

After seven years in the majors, some players would bristle at the idea of playing their home games in a minor-league stadium. But Roark, a 25th round pick who spent five years in the minors before getting the call in 2013, is embracing the prospect of playing home game’s at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field.

“I love it, actually,” Roark said. “Some guys don’t. The way I was brought up, born and raised, I didn’t have the greatest facilities, the greatest fields to play on. I’ve played in the big-leagues for seven years, so I’ve gotten to play in big-league ballparks for seven years, so why not take a step back in time and go play at a minor-league stadium? I’m all for it. I’m welcoming it big-time”

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