Start doesn't go smoothly for 'Butters' vs. M's

Righty still seeking consistency in rookie campaign

August 24th, 2019

SEATTLE -- Blue Jays starter ("Butters" for Players' Weekend) was looking for a rhythm that he couldn’t quite find on Friday night vs. the Mariners at T-Mobile Park.

Thornton lasted four-plus innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on nine hits in the 7-4 loss. While the young right-hander did well to get out ahead on the first pitch against most batters, Thornton didn’t have his best swing-and-miss stuff later in counts and forced just four swinging strikes on 80 pitches.

“We started the game with two runs, then Trent just struggled again,” said manager Charlie Montoyo after the loss. “He just couldn’t minimize damage. He struggled the whole time.”

With Toronto’s rotation simultaneously battling injuries, poor performance and multiple departures via trade, Thornton still stands as the lone season-long presence in the starting five. The next step in Thornton’s development, however, will rely heavily on his ability to shake off the tough innings and build consistency from start to start.

“I’ve just got to start stringing along more consistent, quality starts,” Thornton said. “I’ve been up and down so much this season. It’s a little frustrating, because I know what I’m capable of. Everyone’s seen what I’m capable of in the good games that I’ve pitched.”

The million-dollar question, then, is just how Thornton can find that consistency and make his good days the norm.

“The guys that are super consistent and play in the big leagues for a long time, your Scherzers and deGroms, guys like that, I’ve got to figure that out,” Thornton said. “I know I’ve got the capability of being consistent every time out. It’s really just pitch execution. When you’re executing your pitches, working ahead in the count and keeping hitters off balance, it’s going to be a completely different ballgame."

Friday’s outing leaves Thornton at 124 2/3 innings in 2019, which leads all pitchers on the roster by a significant margin. This is familiar territory for Thornton, who has pitched full Minor League seasons each of the last three years, but the rigors of a Major League season present different challenges.

In Triple-A last season as a member of the Astros’ organization, Thornton often had the luxury of additional rest days in between his starts. This season, both because it’s the big leagues and because the Blue Jays have often seen their rotation shrink to four or fewer starters, Thornton has typically been rolled out every fifth day.

Thornton feels strong, though, and his fastball velocity (92.5 mph) sat near his season average of 93 mph on Friday, so the grind of the season isn’t showing itself in those expected areas, and he’s optimistic that this final month-plus can be a turning point.

Thornton left with the game tied at 4, but the Blue Jays’ bullpen gave up the lead in the sixth inning when three runs scored without a ball being put in play. After Sam Gaviglio walked in a run with the bases loaded, both Tim Mayza and Neil Ramirez allowed runs to score on wild pitches.

“We just didn’t throw strikes,” Montoyo said. “The inning with the four walks, the wild pitches, our bullpen just didn’t throw strikes. It’s tough to play defense when guys are not throwing strikes, too.”