The news went from bad to worse for the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon, as Trent Thornton was removed from his start against the Rays with right elbow inflammation. A day later, the club placed Thornton on the 10-day injured list and recalled left-hander Travis Bergen.
This is the same issue that landed Thornton on the injured list earlier this season, and the young right-hander was making just his second start since returning. Prior to Sunday’s 5-4 loss at Tropicana Field -- their second loss in as many days coming off a six-game winning streak -- the Blue Jays also placed Matt Shoemaker on the IL with right shoulder inflammation.
“After the first inning, he went straight downstairs and told Pete Walker that he was feeling something in his elbow,” manager Charlie Montoyo said after the loss. “Of course, when someone says that, we had to take him out of the game. Pete came back and told me he was out.”
Thornton lasted just one inning and 25 pitches, but he was seen holding or massaging that right elbow at multiple points in the first inning. His velocity was down slightly, which is difficult to quantify given that he was still building back up from the initial injury, and Thornton allowed two hits while striking out two.
In 2019, Thornton also spent a brief stint on the IL in late July with inflammation in this same elbow, but neither of his times on the IL were believed to be serious. A further update on both Thornton and Shoemaker is expected when the Blue Jays have those results.
With Shoemaker and No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson on the IL, the Blue Jays’ rotation currently holds just three healthy starters in Hyun Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson, who is still building back up to full strength himself after dealing with an oblique strain in Summer Camp.
Next in line could be Anthony Kay, who followed Thornton on Sunday with three innings and 47 pitches. Kay has found success in a bullpen role this season, but he is certainly still considered a starter long term.
“We knew we were going to use Kay, because one of the ideas was that now we know Shoemaker is out, to stretch Kay out,” Montoyo said. “That’s why he threw close to 50 pitches today, so he could be an option to start.”
If Kay does move into a rotation spot, Montoyo would rather give him a full starter’s rest and wait for this rotation spot to circle back around on Friday instead of rushing him into Pearson’s spot, which will come sooner. Jacob Waguespack is another starting option, Montoyo added, so his 48 pitches on Sunday had a purpose behind them, too.
Toronto’s bullpen has already carried a very heavy load this season, and while it has been very strong as a group, sustaining that success has to be a concern for the Blue Jays given that their rotation is not working deep into ballgames. This is testing the optimism of Montoyo, who always finds a bright side, but he’s still confident his team will find a way.
“It’s a grind, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse and I won’t use it as an excuse,” Montoyo said. “It is what it is. There’s a lot of teams playing every day. We’ve just got to grind it out and find a way. We will.”
One positive on a difficult day was the continued play of Teoscar Hernández, who provided more than just power against the Rays.
Hernández launched his 10th home run of the season, moving him into a tie for third in the Majors. The right fielder also walked three times -- a feat far more rare for Hernández than the home run power -- and stole a pair of bases, sprinkling his name all over Sunday’s stat sheet. Hernández’s OPS jumped to .993 with this performance.