Thornton laments slow start in 2nd straight loss

Blue Jays rookie struggles during 2-run 1st inning against Twins

April 18th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- The expectation all along was that rookie season was going to be a bit of a roller coaster ride. Now, he’s experiencing those ups and downs firsthand.

Thornton was saddled with his second consecutive loss after he allowed four runs over 4 2/3 innings in a 4-1 loss to the Twins on Wednesday night at Target Field. had a pair of hits and chipped in with an RBI single in the losing effort after the game was delayed at the start by 54 minutes because of rain.

Earlier this year, Thornton became the first Major League pitcher since Eduardo Rodriguez in 2015 to go at least five innings with seven strikeouts and three hits or fewer in his first two big league starts. The last two outings haven’t gone nearly as smooth with nine earned runs over 7 2/3 innings. Such is life as a Major League rookie still trying to figure things out.

“To start off the game, I definitely didn’t have my best stuff,” Thornton said. “I wasn’t locating as well as I should have been. I got a big double play in the first inning to kind of keep us in the game a little bit. From there, I started to piece things together inning by inning. The last two innings, to me, I felt like it was finally clicking for me. I was making good pitches, finally working ahead in counts. But I need to get off to a better start to help the team win and get deeper into games.”

Most of Thornton’s issues came during a 37-pitch first inning. After Thornton’s previous outing, manager Charlie Montoyo felt Thornton wasn’t being nearly aggressive enough with his fastball, and during the early stages of Wednesday’s game it was an issue once again. Thornton was nibbling with his fastball and surrendered a couple of runs, but he was at least partially bailed out when Eddie Rosario grounded into a double play.

The other issue Thornton experienced was surrendering a lot of hard contact.

According to Statcast, the Twins had seven balls put in play against Thornton which had exit velocities of at least 95 mph. Four of those swings had exit velocities above 100 mph, including a leadoff double by Max Kepler in the first inning and an RBI double by Nelson Cruz in the third. The command of Thornton’s offspeed pitches also was a problem with his curveball, slider and changeup combo being used 52 times, but just 28 strikes.

“It was a tough night,” Montoyo said. “Give Trent some credit. He struggled early and threw a lot of pitches, but then he battled back and kept us in the game. … He made an adjustment. That was good to see.”

Smoak show

Smoak is one of the few veteran hitters in this Blue Jays lineup and his absence was sorely felt when he missed four games with a sore neck earlier this month. The injury had been nagging for a little bit, but since returning to the lineup, Smoak has been on a tear. The slugging first baseman’s production slowed down just a bit on Wednesday night, but he still managed to come through with an RBI single.

The 32-year-old Smoak has reached base safely in 14 of his last 15 games. He also has reached base in 18 of his last 31 plate appearances, including one double, a home run, 10 walks and a hit by pitch.

“He’s just a good hitter. He gives you good at-bats every time. Our lineup is much better when he’s in there, being a switch hitter. We’re just better when he’s in the lineup. That’s just a fact.”