The Blue Jays have announced that Nate Pearson has a sports hernia, and that he will likely move to the bullpen for the remainder of 2021 when recovered. But might this be a good thing?
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Nate Pearson‘s string of injuries have been troubling. Both because of the effect they have had on his performance and because of the uncertainty surrounding the cause. Mark Shapiro recently announced that Nate would be getting a fourth medical opinion on his injured groin.
Well, on Tuesday we received good news – the problem has been identified. Nate has a sports hernia. This is a good news / bad news revelation – while sports hernias are serious, and require treatment and management, at least they CAN be managed. So while the injury is bad news, knowing what it is (and knowing that it is not something more serious) is very good news. Nate is throwing now, and the team expects him to be throwing live BP within a week and returning to game action shortly after that.
Which brings us to the second good news / bad news. To appropriately manage the injury, it is highly probable that the Jays will use Nate in shorter stints for the remainder of 2021, with a view to moving him back to the rotation in 2022. This is bad news for Nate’s development as a starter.
Or is it?
Nate has been struggling with his control at the MLB level, with a career 7.97 walks per nine innings (admittedly, in a very small sample size). This could be in part due to the hernia, which might have existed for some time. But it might well be more than that.
Nate has a holy-cow-Batman 70 grade fastball and a 65 grade slider (with 70 grade potential) to go with it. He also has a curve and change-up, but those two pitches are not as well developed. The curve is rated as 45/45, which means below average but still usable, and his change-up is 40/55, which means that it is well below average right now but has the potential to be slightly above average. To his credit, Nate has been working hard on the curve and change, as he realizes that a major league starter can not get by on only two pitches. Problem is, they are not there yet – he is having trouble both with command and control.
So play the game of “what if?” with me. Suppose the Jays bring Nate up to the bigs as a late-inning reliever, and ask him to focus on the fastball and slider for the remainder of 2021. Tell him that his goal, by the end of the year, is to focus on those two pitches to the point where he is comfortable throwing them for strikes in any situation in any count. Continue working on the curve and change in practice (with the best pitching coach in the Jays’ system) and throw them occasionally in games. But the deliverable for 2021 is to establish a solid foundation with his two primary pitches. So if, in 2022, he misses with a couple of change-ups or curves and finds himself behind in the count, he is not flustered, but completely confident going back to the heat or a slider.
Nate should be able to excel out of the bullpen with a 100-mile-fastball and that’s-just-unfair slider. If he can prove to himself that his stuff is good enough to get any major leaguer out, it should reduce his nervousness and enhance his confidence. With increased confidence, he might be more willing to challenge hitters in the strike zone rather than feeling that he needs to “nibble” at the corners. And with Nate’s stuff, that confidence might be the only missing piece in his MLB-starter puzzle.
And, of course, adding Nate (and hopefully Julian Merryweather) to the 2021 bullpen could go a long way to resolving the Jays’ biggest area of need in their race for a playoff spot … and beyond!
The bottom line
It would have been nice if Nate had never been hurt. But it is entirely possible that this injury – and the move the bullpen for the remainder of 2021 that it will likely entail – could end up being a very positive thing for the 2021 Jays and for the remainder of Nate’s career as a starter.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.