Blue Jays squander top prospect Pearson's dazzling debut with extra inning loss to Nats
Series in Philadelphia pushed to Saturday, Phillies players test negative for virus
Expectations were sky-high for Nate Pearson's big-league debut Wednesday night at Nationals Park.
With five shutout innings, an eyebrow-raising fastball and the ability to throw quality breaking pitches in pressure spots, Pearson showed he belonged on the big stage against the reigning World Series champions.
Washington eventually spoiled Toronto's home opener with a 4-0, 10th-inning win, but praise for the young Blue Jays right-hander came from all corners after the game.
"There's nothing better for a manager than saying, 'Man, we may have a chance to win every five days,"' said Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo. "That's what I thought today when he was pitching those five innings."
Nationals manager Dave Martinez was also impressed.
"Toronto's got a good one there," he said. "He's got a good live fastball. He threw some really good breaking balls. He's going to be really good."
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Washington starter Max Scherzer was equally sharp on a hot evening in the U.S. capital, working 7 1/3 scoreless innings as the Blue Jays (3-3) were shut out for the first time this season.
The Nationals (2-4) scratched out a run against reliever Shun Yamaguchi before Asdrubal Cabrera broke the game open with a three-run triple.
Yamaguchi (0-2) nearly got out of the 10th inning unscathed after walking Carter Kieboom and Andrew Stevenson to load the bases. Pinch-runner Emilio Bonifacio started the frame on second base.
After back-to-back strikeouts, Adam Eaton hit a hard comebacker that Cavan Biggio scooped up before diving to second base to try to beat Stevenson for the force. Toronto challenged the safe call but the decision was upheld with Bonifacio scoring the game's first run.
Tanner Rainey worked the 10th to preserve the shutout for the Nationals (2-4), who will go for a split of the four-game series on Thursday afternoon.
Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, struck out 10 and allowed three hits. Daniel Hudson (1-0) recorded five outs for the win.
The Blue Jays will play so-called home games in road parks until the team's 2020 home at Buffalo's Sahlen Field is ready on Aug. 11. A team proposal to play home games at Toronto's Rogers Centre was kiboshed by the government before the season due to concerns about COVID-19.
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It made for a most unusual feel as Toronto played in its home white uniforms. The team's stadium operations crew sent player introduction recordings to Washington so the Blue Jays would have more of a home-field feel.
In one particularly odd moment, "OK Blue Jays" was played during the seventh-inning stretch.
Pearson, a six-foot-six right-hander, kept the Nationals off-balance throughout his appearance, giving up two hits, two walks and striking out five. On an 80-pitch count for his debut, he threw 48 of 75 pitches for strikes.
"I had a little bit of everything working," Pearson said. "Fastball command was there at times when I needed it. It still wasn't where I wanted it to be. But man, my slider was on tonight. That was my big pitch.
"It got me out of a lot of jams and I got some big strikeouts on it."
Pearson said he felt comfortable from the start and he showed no sign of early jitters.
"I was taking it all in in the first inning," he said. "Looking around, just taking mental pictures of where I was at."
Relying primarily on his heater and slider, Pearson mixed in the occasional curveball and change-up over his appearance. He reached 99-mph in the second inning and retired the side in order.
"His makeup is very good and his command is very good," Montoyo said. "I think those two things are what good pitchers have and he's got it."
Pearson allowed an infield single to Turner in the third and a leadoff double to Eric Thames in the fourth. Thames advanced to third but Pearson struck out Kieboom on three pitches to end the threat, capping it with a 99-mph fastball at the knees.
Pearson, 23, fanned two more batters in the fifth and Turner flew out to end the inning. The first-round draft pick was all smiles in the dugout afterward as teammates, Montoyo and pitching coach Pete Walker congratulated him on the effort.
Simply put, the youngster was as advertised.
"For a young guy, he's really confident and that's great," Montoyo said. "I loved what I saw."
Jays' series in Philly pushed to Saturday
The Blue Jays will play in Philadelphia this weekend.
Major League Baseball confirmed Wednesday that the Blue Jays will play a double-header at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday, followed by a game on Sunday. The series was originally scheduled to run Friday through Sunday.
The Blue Jays will serve as the home team during the three-game series.
The status of the series was cast in doubt following a novel coronavirus outbreak among the Miami Marlins, who played a season-opening series in Philadelphia last weekend. The Phillies' four-game, home-and-home series against the New York Yankees was postponed this week
Philadelphia general manager Matt Klentak said Wednesday that one employee who works in the visiting clubhouse has tested positive for the coronavirus, but all Phillies players and on-field staff tested negative for COVID-19 for a second straight day.
"We're testing again today and I would expect we'd test daily for the foreseeable future," Klentak said.
The Phillies' "road" series with Toronto was switched to Philadelphia because the Blue Jays' temporary ballpark in Buffalo, New York, isn't ready. The Blue Jays have been displaced because the Canadian government didn't want players crossing the border from the United States, where COVID-19 infections have spiked in many states, to play at Toronto's Rogers Centre.
Klentak said the possibility that Saturday's doubleheader would feature two seven-inning games is still being discussed, among other options.
Klentak said the Phillies became aware that players on the Marlins had tested positive shortly before Sunday's game and it was the league's decision to play the game.
"We have to put health and safety first. That is priority No. 1," Klentak said. "Our guys have been really good about speaking up when they have a question and understanding what they need to do to follow protocols. Most of our players recognize if they follow protocols, that's the best way to limit an outbreak. They've been disciplined about that."
Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price has been cleared to rejoin the team after missing two games due to COVID-19 protocols. Price stayed home as a precaution after not feeling well and has tested negative.
With files from The Associated Press