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Nate Pearson Gets Everything Working In Latest AFL Start

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Nate Pearson (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

SURPRISE, Ariz.—For all of the buzz about Nate Pearson’s velocity, the fact is he wasn’t pitching that well in the Arizona Fall League.

The Blue Jays righthander posted an 11.12 ERA in his first four AFL starts, with 19 hits and 14 earned runs allowed in 11.1 innings despite a fastball that clocked as high as 104 mph.

On Wednesday afternoon, he turned that around.

Pearson pitched four perfect innings for Surprise, striking out five in a display of sheer dominance. He sat 93-97 mph early, ramped up to the upper 90s and touched 101 mph in his second inning, and confounded a powerful Scottsdale lineup with a dastardly four-pitch mix.

"I had a really good mix going,” said Pearson, Toronto’s No. 6 prospect. "Slider and curveball were both there. I threw one pretty good changeup but I kept throwing it just to show hitters, and obviously my fastball was great today.”

Coming off a start in the Fall Stars Game where he touched 104 mph but also gave up a monster home run to the Mets’ Peter Alonso, Pearson found mixing it up was a better recipe for success than simply trying to overpower—although he was plenty capable of that as well.

In addition to his upper-90s fastball, Pearson flashed an 89-92 mph changeup, an 86-88 mph slider and a mid-70s curveball that all found the zone for strikes.

Three of Pearson’s five strikeouts came on his curveball. That included a measure of revenge against Alonso, who he struck out swinging on a curve in the dirt in the fourth inning.

"I never want to face him in my life, that’s for sure,” Surprise shortstop Cole Tucker said of his teammate Pearson. "His fastball is electric and when he’s got his offspeed stuff on and in the zone like he did today, he’s an unbelievable pitcher. He’s a frontline guy and he’s a lot of fun to play behind.”

Pearson’s four perfect innings outshined counterpart J.B. Bukauskas, who sat 96-98 mph with an 86-88 mph slider but had trouble with his control. Bukauskas walked five and struck out two in four innings, though he limited the damaged with just three hits and one run allowed.

In a showdown of elite pitching prospects, for the first time in actual Fall League play, it was Pearson who won the day.

"I felt like I had a bunch of momentum coming into today,” Pearson said. "I was just trying to put up zeroes on the board and give my teammates a chance to win. Thankfully we did.”

NEWS AND NOTES

— Tucker, the Pirates' No. 10 prospect, capped a four-run rally in the ninth with a walk-off single through the right side to give Surprise a 5-4 win. The 22-year-old shortstop finished 2-for-4 for his third straight multi-hit game and is now batting .368 with an .879 OPS. He’s also impressed with his defense at shortstop, showing range to both sides and a strong, accurate arm.

“This experience has just grown me up as a player,” said Tucker, the Pirates' first-round pick in 2014. “I feel like I’m getting really close to being that everyday big league shortstop. I feel like I’m just having really good at-bats and really good play at shortstop defensively. I feel like I’m growing into all the aspects I wanted to coming into this season.”

Scottsdale second baseman Shed Long (Reds) left in the sixth inning after getting hit in the forearm by a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. line drive. Long was shifted to the shortstop side of second base and dove to his right to try and snag the liner but overshot it. The ball struck his left arm and Long remained down on the field for nearly a minute before walking off the field over his own power. Long left the field through the tunnel shortly after holding his left arm up and completely still. His status was not immediately available.

Scottsdale catcher Ali Sanchez (Mets) threw out the first three runners who tried to steal on him, recording pop times between 2.00 and 2.05 seconds with pristine accuracy right on the second base bag.

D-backs shortstop Jazz Chisholm starred in the nightcap as Salt River fell to Peoria 8-7 on Buddy Reed’s ninth-inning home run. Chisholm led off the bottom of the first with home run out to center field that traveled 430 feet, per Statcast, and later laced a double the opposite way into the left-center field gap. Chisholm, the D-backs' No. 3 prospect at midseason, is batting .438 with three home runs and a 1.236 OPS in the Fall League. He did, however, make two throwing errors and had two other bobbles at shortstop.

—Reed (Padres), fresh off winning Fall Stars Game MVP, hit his first home run when he pulled Caleb Smith’s offering down the right field line in the ninth to snap a 7-7 tie. Reed, 23, is up to a .345 batting average with a .945 OPS in the AFL while showcasing his usual tremendous outfield defense.

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