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Thornton uses new-look pitch to stifle Red Sox

September 12, 2019

TORONTO -- There were a couple of homers, a pair of doubles and 11 hits for the home team on Wednesday, but as the Blue Jays broke out the bats against the Red Sox at Rogers Centre, the highlight of the night rested squarely on the shoulders of the pitching

TORONTO -- There were a couple of homers, a pair of doubles and 11 hits for the home team on Wednesday, but as the Blue Jays broke out the bats against the Red Sox at Rogers Centre, the highlight of the night rested squarely on the shoulders of the pitching staff, with Trent Thornton in the spotlight.

After a team-leading 28 starts, the 25-year-old right-hander found himself on the mound after an opener for the first time, with Wilmer Font beginning the game for Toronto. Font threw two innings of one-hit baseball before Thornton came on in relief. The rookie hurler one-upped his predecessor by no-hitting the reigning World Series champions for five innings, walking one and striking out seven in the 8-0 shutout victory.

Box score

“He was throwing harder, he looked fresh, and five no-hit innings is a record for a reliever for the Blue Jays,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said of Thornton. “That was good to see, and it was perfect because … we wanted to shorten his innings this late in the season and he did a great job. He was on with all of his pitches.”

One pitch that worked especially well for Thornton against the Red Sox was a new-look curveball. He went to the bender 26 times just two days after adding it to his repertoire, taking the pitch out of 13-year Major League hurler Clay Buchholz’s book.

“It was a new pitch for me today,” Thornton said. “Buchholz actually has been helping me out with a couple different grips, with certain things, and I was throwing [the curveball] in my last side session and it just clicked. I brought it into the game, and that was probably the most effective my curveball has been all year.”

Among the 26 breaking balls the young righty threw -- of a total of 75 pitches on the night -- he induced seven whiffs, got six called strikes, three foul balls and four were put in play for outs.

“His curveball’s obviously really good, but it was more along the lines of using it in different ways,” Buchholz said. “Not just always throwing your best curveball every time you go to it. He’s talking about the backdoor curveball to a lefty, starting a guy off with that. … He saw me throw a bullpen and actually mean to do that, and he’d never even thought about doing it before. That’s when we sat down and talked about it.”

Thornton threw three curveballs for first-pitch strikes to batters, and one to a left-hander. He added three in 1-0 counts and three in 0-1 counts, abandoning the breaking ball he’s gone to all season and using the newest member of his repertoire for his out pitch four times, getting the third strike on it in each of those instances.

“When you’re striking guys out with his pitch, you might as well keep using it,” Thornton said. “I liked my curveball, it was a different grip. I noticed how effective he throws his early, late in the count, and I wanted to see if I could do the same thing he did. Somehow that grip felt a little more comfortable and easy to command than the one I was using.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s matchup, Thornton had gone winless in his last six starts -- all games the Blue Jays came out on the losing end of. The native of North Carolina had also been the owner of a 12.19 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox, allowing 14 earned runs over 10 1/3 innings.

“I know what kind of lineup that is over there, so to [no-hit] them, that just means they’re going to be coming hard tomorrow, but it’s impressive,” Buchholz said of Thornton. “He’s a good athlete, he knows what he wants to do, and sometimes you just need a little bit of guidance and hit points to understand why you’re doing it and when to do it, and that’s what he and I talked a whole lot about.”

Among an extremely young clubhouse, Thornton has taken every available opportunity to seek out advice from the veteran hurlers on the staff, believing their presence has made a world of difference to his success.

“Buchholz and Clayton [Richard] have been the most influential people in my career up to this point,” Thornton said. “Because they’ve been so successful for so long and they’ve been there and done that, and know what it takes to succeed on a consistent basis. With it being my rookie year, I like to think I know a decent amount of the game, but they know so much more and you can never stop learning, so it’s been awesome having those guys around.”

Added Buchholz: “He’s got good stuff, and it sort of hits home with me as far as being a young pitcher in a new organization. I’m trying to not just make myself better every day, but everybody else around me better and that’s part of it.”

Thornton was nearly perfect in his fourth chance against the American League East rival, facing just one batter over the minimum through his five frames. His seven strikeouts extended his lead among AL rookies to 134 and moved him up the franchise list into sole possession of the third-most strikeouts for a Toronto rookie, sitting behind Ricky Romero, who had 141 in 2009.

“Thornton came in and his curveball was really working and he has that little thing with his fastball when it’s up in the zone,” Xander Bogaerts said. “The game plan was to try not to chase, especially the heater up, and even myself, I was chasing them. He was on point. It might have been one of the best games of his big league career so far.”

The offence backing Thornton was led by home runs from Rowdy Tellez -- his second in as many nights -- and Teoscar Hernandez, whose long balls helped the league to a record-setting number of homers. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. drove in three runs, while Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen and Randal Grichuk each added a pair of knocks in the affair.

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.