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Takeaways from Toronto's first Interleague game

Tellez's slam not enough; Thornton labors over five frames
April 23, 2019

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays’ bats finally woke up in the bottom of the eighth inning, but it was too little, too late in the series opener vs. the Giants. Rowdy Tellez gave the Blue Jays some life with the first grand slam of his career, but it wasn’t enough

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays’ bats finally woke up in the bottom of the eighth inning, but it was too little, too late in the series opener vs. the Giants.

Rowdy Tellez gave the Blue Jays some life with the first grand slam of his career, but it wasn’t enough to offset another inconsistent outing for right-hander Trent Thornton in a 7-6 loss to San Francisco on Tuesday night. The Toronto rookie was charged with his third consecutive loss, and the Blue Jays will need a win on Wednesday to avoid their first series loss in more than a week.

Veteran infielder Eric Sogard provided one of the only bright spots for the Blue Jays with a solo home run to right field in the sixth inning. Outfielder Sócrates Brito also came through with an RBI triple in the second, but the win went to Giants right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who was charged with two runs on five hits, one walk and four strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.

“We lost again tonight, so it’s a tough one,” said Tellez, who became the ninth rookie in franchise history to hit a grand slam. “For me, a meaningless home run in the scorebook, but mentally, it’s nice to have a good at-bat against a tough lefty in the bullpen.”

Here are the top three takeaways from Toronto’s first Interleague game of the year:

1) Back to reality
Thornton set a franchise record earlier this month by striking out 15 batters over his first two career starts. The 25-year-old didn’t pick up a win in either of those games, but the outings could not have gone much better, with just two earned runs over 10 2/3 innings.

Since then, the league appears to have made an adjustment and things are no longer nearly as easy for the Pennsylvania native. The latest example came Tuesday when Thornton allowed four runs on six hits over five innings while striking out five.

The issue during Thornton’s past two starts has been a lack of aggressiveness with his fastball. He nibbled at the corners, and while he was better vs. San Francisco -- he finished with zero walks -- there was still a lot of hard contact. The Giants put five balls in play with exit velocities greater than 100 mph, and three others above 95. Thornton’s ERA now sits at 5.79.

“If I’m able to establish my command with that, it will make all of my pitches better,” Thornton said of his fastball. “My curveball felt pretty good tonight -- I didn’t have any damage off that pitch, really. But if I’m able to establish my fastball early in games and get ahead in counts, it will help me tremendously.”

2) The Socrates watch
Brito set a Blue Jays record earlier this month by starting his Toronto tenure with an 0-for-21 skid at the plate, surpassing David Delucci’s 19 hitless at-bat streak in 2009. There were signs of life in Oakland as Brito came through with an RBI single on Friday, and there were more against San Francisco.

In the bottom of the second inning, Brito hit an RBI triple to right-center field for his first extra-base hit as a Blue Jay. According to Statcast, the ball left Brito’s bat at 106.3 mph, by far his hardest contact since joining Toronto on April 2 after a trade with San Diego. Brito went hitless for the rest of the game, but he at least has some positives to build on after a historically slow start.

“He only has 20-something at-bats -- we just have to be patient,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He had a good at-bat today, a couple of good at-bats. The ground ball hit to first, he hit it pretty good. We just have to be patient with him. He has all of the tools to be a pretty good big leaguer.”

3) Started at the top
Sogard snapped a homerless streak of 313 at-bats with his solo home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, which was the longest active skid in the Major Leagues. The 32-year-old infielder continues to be a surprise story at the top of the Blue Jays’ lineup, producing since joining the club before the start of its last road trip.

Sogard went 1-for-4 with a solo home run and a walk on Tuesday and he is now batting .385 with a 1.006 OPS in six games for Toronto. The sample size is tiny -- and almost no one expects Sogard to continue producing at his current rate -- but the performance has still been a major positive for a team that spent the first few weeks searching for a regular leadoff man.

Despite the early success, Sogard likely won’t hang onto his starting job for much longer. Top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is expected to be promoted to the Majors in the near future -- possibly as soon as Friday vs. Oakland -- which would shift Brandon Drury from third base to second. Sogard should still stick around as the Blue Jays' utility infielder, but he likely won’t be getting as many at-bats as he is now.

“He’s having great at-bats,” Montoyo said. “Even his first AB was seven pitches or something. That’s what you want in that spot. He has been great for the team.”

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