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Thornton's club mark comes in bittersweet loss

@gregorMLB
March 31, 2019

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' starting rotation kept rolling on Sunday afternoon, and rookie Trent Thornton has a new franchise record to celebrate, even if there wasn’t quite enough offense to back him up. Thornton set a Toronto record by striking out eight in his Major League debut, which surpassed

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' starting rotation kept rolling on Sunday afternoon, and rookie Trent Thornton has a new franchise record to celebrate, even if there wasn’t quite enough offense to back him up.

Thornton set a Toronto record by striking out eight in his Major League debut, which surpassed the previous Blue Jays record of seven, set by Matthew Boyd (2015) and Marc Rzepczynski (2009). Rowdy Tellez made things interesting late with a three-run pinch-hit homer in the bottom of the eighth, but it still wasn’t enough to avoid a 4-3 loss to the Tigers in 11 innings during the series finale.

The 25-year-old Thornton scattered just two hits and didn’t walk a batter, while throwing 47 of his 75 pitches for strikes. Thornton’s strong start increased the Blue Jays’ streak of scoreless innings from the rotation to start the season to 24, which is the longest in the Major Leagues since Atlanta’s rotation opened the 1994 season with 25. Toronto’s previous franchise record was eight, which was set in 1992.

“That was awesome,” said Thornton, who became the second pitcher in MLB history to have at least eight strikeouts, no runs, no walks and two hits or fewer in his debut. “That was pretty much everything I dreamed of since I was four years old. I was able to go out there and show why I belong here. Having my family here to witness that was really special.”

Thornton wasn't even expected to be a part of the Blue Jays' starting rotation at the beginning of the year. He was projected to open the season at Triple-A Buffalo until an elbow injury to lefty Ryan Borucki created another vacancy in the rotation, and cleared the way for Thornton. With Borucki’s status unknown and lefty Clayton Richard set to miss at least two weeks with a stress reaction in his right knee, Thornton has an opportunity to stick around for awhile. Sunday’s performance drove that point home even more.

The native of Pennsylvania joined the Blue Jays this offseason in a trade with the Astros for infielder Aledmys Diaz. Thornton went 9-8 with a 4.42 ERA over 24 appearances last year at Triple-A Fresno, and then spent the spring competing for a job out of the bullpen until an unexpected opening in the rotation was found just days before the start of the regular season when Borucki got hurt.

The Blue Jays can’t ask for any better results than what they’ve been getting from their starters through the first four games of the season. Marcus Stroman and Matt Shoemaker kicked things off with a pair of back-to-back scoreless outings vs. the Tigers before Aaron Sanchez and Thornton each followed with five more scoreless innings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Blue Jays’ streak of 24 scoreless innings from the rotation is the fourth longest since the start of the expansion era in 1961. The 1963 Cardinals went 32 scoreless to start the year, the 1976 Brewers had a 31 2/3-innings streak and the Braves had 25 in 1994.

“That’s the reason we’ve been in every game -- pitching and defense,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “I feel really good about it. Whenever Detroit scored in one that inning, it was almost like you’re feeling, OK they’re due to score. It’s tough to keep throwing zeros up there. But they’ve been outstanding, the entire rotation, and that’s really good. We have a chance every day.”

Thornton handed a scoreless game over to his bullpen after five innings. In the seventh, Detroit loaded the bases and then scored its first run on a walk by Javy Guerra. Two more scored later in the frame when Jeimer Candelario added a two-run single, which put the Tigers on top until Tellez tied everything up in the bottom of the eighth with a three-run homer off Joe Jimenez. The score stayed that way until the top of the 10th when Blue Jays lefty Thomas Pannone surrendered an RBI single to Nicholas Castellanos.

“He looked awesome,” Tellez said of Thornton after the loss. “I know when I made my debut, I blacked out. I don’t remember any of my at-bat. It was just crazy. But that guy looked like he was a 10-year vet. Super comfortable. Executed all of his pitches. You can’t say much more than congratulations, and keep doing that same thing."

Quotable
“Yes and no. After Sanchez was done throwing he said, ‘Hey man, don’t mess it up,’ and I didn’t know what he was talking about. He goes, ‘Do you realize we have a scoreless streak?’ I was like, ‘No, but now I do.’ I guess it was like 24. That’s a pretty good start for the starters.” -- Thornton, when asked if he was aware of the starters’ streak before the game.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook.