Lack of command and confidence dooms starter Pearson in Blue Jays loss

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It happened to be on a major-league mound that Nate Pearson pooped the bed on Sunday afternoon, but the venue was hardly the issue.

Question the Blue Jays’ decision to rush him back to the bigs after just one start in triple-A if you must, but a disastrous outing for the organization’s top pitching prospect at Houston was all on Pearson.

For a pitcher built to strike out opposing hitters, Pearson couldn’t find the plate. It really was that simple.

For a prospect aching for the chance to get to the big team and stick there, the anxiety may have been too much for him to handle on his first go of the season. The nerves will settle eventually, but the sooner he gets past them the better.

The result wasn’t pretty, of course — just 2.1 innings, setting the stage for a 7-4 Jays loss to the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

The Jays dropped two of three over the weekend in Houston as their record dipped to 17-16.

“Obviously I didn’t have my best stuff whatsoever,” Pearson said following his season debut and fifth big-league start. “I just couldn’t get into a groove. It was hard for me to catch momentum. I’ll figure it out.”

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For Pearson, the wait has been as agonizing as it has been for those waiting for him to succeed. Waiting to be healthy, waiting to get his shot at the big leagues and now, waiting to be comfortable enough to live up to all that promise.

Perhaps he was rushed by the Jays as an act of desperation for the injury-ravaged pitching staff. At some point, however, he has to handle the demands of the bigger stage.

Manager Charlie Montoyo figures that the more time Pearson spends with the team, the more that comfort will come. He’ll spend some time this week with pitching coach Pete Walker, who has been instrumental in his development, and could move right into a regular spot in the rotation.

Astros’ Martin Maldonado is tagged out at home by Blue Jays catcher Reese McGuire during the fifth inning. CARMEN MANDATO/GETTY IMAGES
Astros’ Martin Maldonado is tagged out at home by Blue Jays catcher Reese McGuire during the fifth inning. CARMEN MANDATO/GETTY IMAGES

“The more he pitches, the better he’s going to get,” Montoyo said. “Sometimes you have to be patient. He’ll get it. The sky’s the limit with this kid. He’s got the stuff to be really good.”

From the outset on Sunday, the 24-year-old first-round pick looked uncomfortable. For a guy who wants it so bad, he showed early that he was lacking in command and then confidence.

The scoreline was completely opposite to everything Pearson’s billing suggests. Not only did he walk five and allow three hits as the Astros scored four runs (three earned) on him, but he didn’t strike out a single batter. The fourth walk came in the second inning and brought in a run.

From his first 35 pitches, Pearson threw just 14 strikes and ended with just 28 from 64 pitches.

That’s obviously nowhere near what the Jays will expect from Pearson nor what the driven young man expects from himself. Whether it was something with his delivery (which certainly seemed to be the case), or nerves (which his body language hinted at), it was not a memorable outing.

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While the 2021 debut came a week or two earlier than anticipated, after just one start at triple-A, Pearson was built up enough to give it a go. However, that his first outing was ragged at best and, frankly, quite painful to watch, isn’t cause to write him off just yet.

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GAME ON

It’s not often that a starting pitcher takes a seven-run lead into the fifth inning and doesn’t get a shot at the win, but that’s what happened to the Astros’ Zack Greinke. Led by a Rowdy Tellez solo homer and a two-RBI double from Bo Bichette, the Jays chased Greinke as part of a four-run fifth … Vlad Guerrero ended an 0-for-13 run at the plate with his first hit of the weekend, a fifth-inning single to drive in the Jays’ fourth run … With Pearson unable to bet past the third, the Jays bullpen had another busy day. Lefty Anthony Kay ate up the bulk of that assignment, matching Pearson by going 2.1 innings and allowing three runs on four hits … The Jays could have been in an even bigger hole if not for an outstanding play to end the fifth when Martin Maldonado was gunned down at the plate on a great relay starting with Lourdes Gurriel in left field to Cavan Biggio, and finished by catcher Reese McGuire making the play at the plate.

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AROUND THE BASES

With Pearson activated for his season debut, room on the roster was made by putting reliever Rafael Dolis on the 10-day injured list with a right calf strain … Some notes on Danny Jansen’s towering homer on Saturday — the 448-foot shot was the longest of his career. It was also his third in as many games, just the third Jays catcher to pull off that feat and the first since Ernie Whitt in 1989 … Marcus Semien’s eight home runs are one more than he hit last season and the most among second basemen in the majors … Next up on the 10-game Jays road trip is a three-pack in Atlanta starting on Tuesday.

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