If nothing else, Toronto Blue Jays prospect Nate Pearson will have a great MLB debut story to tell his kids and his grandkids. The 23-year-old right-hander debuted Wednesday night opposite Max Scherzer and in Toronto's home opener, which was played at Nationals Park because .
"I'm looking forward to matching up with Max Scherzer," Pearson told reporters, including MLB.com's Keegan Matheson, earlier this week. "He's one of the best pitchers in baseball and a pitcher I looked up to a lot growing up, seeing him around the league. It will be cool to pitch against him and the reigning champs."
Pearson wasted no time showing why he is regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in the sport. He struck out Trea Turner, the first batter he faced, on four pitches. The finish pitch was a sharp 85 mph slider that looks allergic to bats:
There were moments Wednesday in which Pearson looked like a rookie making his MLB debut. He walked Adam Eaton, the second batter he faced, on four pitches, and he consistently missed up above the zone with his upper-90s fastball. Missing up and out of the zone with fastballs is a classic sign of overthrowing. Here are Pearson's fastball locations:
The young man may have been a little amped up in his first big league start. That's understandable. The nerves didn't stop him from putting up zeroes though. Pearson fired five shutout innings in his debut and retired 14 of the final 17 batters he faced. Only five of the 19 batters he faced hit the ball out of the infield. Pearson threw 75 pitches and was removed after hitting his limit.
Alas, Scherzer put up five zeroes of his own, so the game was scoreless when Pearson exited. He didn't have a chance to get the win in his first MLB start. Nonetheless, it was a sparkling debut. Pearson averaged 96 mph with his fastball and touched 99, and he got 14 swings and misses in those 75 pitches. Only 13 times did a Blue Jays pitcher get that many whiffs in a game last year.
"Nate doesn't have to do anything to impress us," pitching coach Pete Walker told Matheson in summer camp. "He's really in a great place right now, and he's continuing to refine his stuff. He's got a power arm, as we all know. His secondary stuff is really coming along nicely. He doesn't have to do anything different than what he's doing right now."
Our R.J. Anderson ranked Pearson as the No. 16 prospect in baseball during the offseason. Here's what he had to say about the Blue Jays wunderkind:
Few pitchers, let alone prospects, have as much arm strength as Nate Pearson, who hit 103 mph during last year's Arizona Fall League All-Star Game ... Pearson obviously possesses a power arsenal, complete with a high-grade fastball and an above-average slider that he can deliver harder than some pitchers' heaters. The rest of his arsenal is closer to average ... Pearson becoming a front-of-the-rotation monster is within the realm of possibilities. But tempering expectations, at least in the short term, could prove to be a prudent decision.
The Blue Jays gave Hyun-Jin Ryu an $80 million contract and the hope is Pearson will quickly ascend to give the blue a dynamite 1-2 rotation punch. Their young position player core is excellent (Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., etc.), but they need pitching. Pearson living up to the hype would go a long way to getting Toronto back to contention sooner rather than later.
Pearson was not on the Opening Day roster for service time reasons. By keeping him down until Wednesday, the Blue Jays pushed Pearson's free agency back from the 2026-27 offseason to the 2027-28 offseason. The service time rules are expected to change in some way with the next collective bargaining agreement.
The Nationals went on to win Wednesday's game in 10 innings (WAS 4, TOR 0). The Nationals won an extra innings game at Nationals Park but didn't walk it off because they were the road team. 2020 is weird.