Thornton 'confident' in changeup use in debut

February 22nd, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. -- has taken his pitch tinkering to another level.

At the end of the 2019 season, the rookie hurler made some upgrades to his repertoire, aided by the assistance and advice of veteran hurler Clay Buchholz. Thornton took the tidbits he gleaned and implemented them into his curveball, sinker and changeup, “so I stole a lot of his pitches,” the 26-year-old said.

Thornton’s most evidenced improvements were in his changeup, a pitch that he would love to lean on more often and with more effectiveness, after “stealing” it from Buchholz. The native of North Carolina put it into practice right away in his first start of Spring Training on Saturday against the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field, and came away confident with the results of his scoreless two-inning outing. The Blue Jays won, 2-1.

I wanted to emphasize my changeup today, and I threw three or four of them and every single one of them felt really, really good,” Thornton said. “I got a swing and miss, I threw one for a ball, but it was a strike-to-ball-type pitch, depending on what the count was, and I got another weak contact with the changeup. That was one of my focuses on the offseason, was getting more consistent with that pitch.”

According to FanGraphs and Baseball Savant, Thornton threw his changeup 8.9 percent of the time last year (246 occasions). Most of those (216) came against lefties, and he found success in its limited usage, holding opponents to a .120 average on the pitch.

On Saturday, Thornton found a level of consistency in his changeup that he felt he previously lacked. He was able to command it with ease, and its movement faded down instead of cutting and missing up in the strike zone, a problem he’s had in the past. Though he still finds the changeup a difficult pitch to trust, he’s hoping the door is open for it to become another tool.

“It has been the worst pitch for me every year,” Thornton said. “To feel that confident in it this early is definitely a good sign for me, because I think it can open up a big door for me just being able to play other pitches off that. It's another huge weapon, because I think the changeup is one of the best pitches in baseball."

Added Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo: “[Thornton's] changeup was good, and that’s what I liked about [his outing]. He’s working on it and he had good action, so we’re happy with that and we’re happy with his outing. … The changeup is going to be good against righties and lefties, for sure.”

Thornton’s successful first outing is a step forward in his bid for Toronto’s fifth rotation spot, and it adds to a resume that includes being the Blue Jays’ most consistent starter in 2019. In his rookie season, the righty posted a 4.84 ERA over 32 outings (29 starts) and 154 1/3 frames, walking 61 and fanning 149. He led the team in starts, innings and strikeouts, but he knows he faces an uphill battle this spring to secure his spot on the roster.

“In baseball, you’re never handed anything,” Thornton said. “You’re going to have to prove yourself, year in and year out. For me, that gives me the competitive chip on my shoulder where it kind of lights a fire under your butt. For me personally, I want to prove everyone wrong. I want to prove that I’m a big leaguer every day out.”