Thorpe flaunts changeup in 'dream come true' debut

White Sox No. 3 prospect whiffs Mariners' J-Rod, flashes athleticism in first MLB start

June 12th, 2024

SEATTLE -- The day before first stood atop a Major League mound for his start on the road against a first-place team, White Sox manager Pedro Grifol raved about the 23-year-old right-hander’s biggest weapon: his changeup.

Grifol pointed out that if any pitcher is to have a successful career at this level, he needs at least one pitch that is “plus-plus.”

On Tuesday night, the struggling and rebuilding White Sox dropped a 4-3 decision to the Mariners, but the lasting impression of the game from the South Siders’ point of view had to be that the club's No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- and his “plus-plus” change -- are big league legit.

Thorpe, who was called up from Double-A, looked as unflappable and polished as he was while putting up the comic-book numbers in Birmingham (7-1 record, 1.35 ERA, .170 opponents' batting average) that allowed him to bypass Triple-A altogether. The changeup, predictably, was the biggest part of it.

Thorpe went five innings, and 38 of the 98 pitches he threw were changeups, for 39 percent of his arsenal. The next most common offering, his four-seam fastball, was thrown 28 times. He got 19 swings on the changeup, including seven whiffs. He departed with the Sox leading, 3-2, having given up two runs (one earned) on three hits, while striking out four and walking two.

The White Sox bullpen couldn’t hold the lead for a second consecutive night, giving up the deciding two runs in the bottom of the seventh, but Thorpe’s presence was felt in the clubhouse afterward despite the result, and Thorpe was still floating from a dream realized and a good first impression.

"I can’t really put it into words, honestly,” Thorpe said of the experience. “It’s my dream come true, and it was good to get the first one out of the way.”

Thorpe, who arrived in Chicago in March from San Diego in the Dylan Cease trade (after arriving in San Diego from the Nationals in the Juan Soto trade), is a bit of a throwback when it comes to Major League pitching in 2024. His four-seam fastball averaged 91.3 mph and topped out at 93. His changeup was devilish, however. He threw it between 79.9 mph and 84.6 mph, averaging 82.2 mph. The scouting report on him was no mystery, but Seattle's hitters still couldn’t figure out the pitch.

Thorpe notched his first strikeout on a changeup against Mariners star Julio Rodríguez. Not too shabby for a pitcher from Utah who said he spent the last couple of years admiring Seattle’s center fielder from afar.

“He did a good job pounding the zone,” Grifol said. “He used every single pitch. He did a really nice job and gave us a chance to win.”

Thorpe fielded his position well, best exemplified on his last pitch of the night when he popped off the mound quickly to grab a swinging bunt off the bat of Cal Raleigh and threw him out at first.

“He looked like a shortstop out there,” said Paul DeJong, Chicago's actual shortstop on the night. “He’s kind of a calm, cool and collected guy, and a good athlete, too.”

Catcher Martín Maldonado said Thorpe also displayed quiet confidence, noting that the rookie wasn’t afraid to shake him off and that he hardly showed any emotion on the bump.

“I feel like he’s worked hard in his career to be here,” Maldonado said. “He made adjustments in the middle of the game, which was good to see.”

Unfortunately for Chicago, not enough adjustments were made to what has been a consistent trend of finding ways to lose winnable games, and as a result Thorpe's efforts were relegated to a no-decision. A 2-for-11 night with runners in scoring position -- including stranding the tying run at third with nobody out in the eighth -- proved Chicago's undoing as Seattle staged another comeback victory.

Reliever Tanner Banks issued a two-out walk to Josh Rojas in the seventh and was replaced by righty John Brebbia, who surrendered an infield single to Rodríguez. Rodríguez stole second base and came home along with Rojas on Raleigh’s game-deciding two-run double.

“It was a good ballgame, but this is probably game No. 25 where we’ve had the lead [and lost],” Grifol said. “We’ve got to close these games out. We’ve got to find ways to do it.”