3:37pm: Pearson is doing “better,” according to manager Charlie Montoyo, but it’s “unlikely” he’ll be ready for the start of the season (Twitter link via Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet).
10:38am: Right-hander Nate Pearson suffered a “mild re-aggravation” of his strained right groin during a bullpen session on Tuesday, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told reporters (including Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi). Pearson will be monitored over the next few days, though considering that the young righty has missed almost all of March with the injury, it seems likely that Pearson will need to begin the season on the injured list while he heals and gets properly ramped up to pitch.
Pearson suffered a Grade 1 groin strain on March 1, during his first Grapefruit League outing. The injury wasn’t considered too serious, and Pearson’s recovery appeared to be going smoothly — for instance, he came out of another bullpen session last Saturday with no issues. However, the 24-year-old will now probably be facing a delay in the start of his first full Major League season.
One of the game’s most highly-touted young pitchers, Pearson made his MLB debut last season and posted a 6.00 ERA over 18 innings in the regular season, plus two scoreless frames during the Jays’ wild card series with the Rays. Pearson also spent a month on the IL due to elbow tightness.
Despite the difficulties of Pearson’s first season, the Blue Jays were counting on big things in 2021, hoping that Pearson would emerge as a solid No. 2 starter behind Hyun-Jin Ryu. It was something of a risky move even with Pearson healthy, and his absence (even if it ends up being a somewhat short stint on the IL) now underlines the questions surrounding Toronto’s pitching. Tanner Roark, Ross Stripling, Trent Thornton, the re-signed Robbie Ray, and new acquisition Steven Matz are all looking for bounce-back seasons, while younger arms like Anthony Kay and Thomas Hatch are still unproven at the MLB level.
If Pearson does miss time, Atkins intimated that Stripling was the favorite to step into the rotation, going from a swingman role to a starting role. As Davidi notes, this could put Kay, Hatch, Thornton, or T.J. Zeuch in line to take over Stripling’s long man job in the bullpen, which creates further juggling down the road about how to manage innings and whether younger pitchers are best deployed as relievers or kept stretched out as rotation depth.