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Notes: Thornton nitpicks start; Pearson K's 3

@baseballexis
March 7, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Continuing to make his case for the fifth spot in the Blue Jays' rotation out of Spring Training, Trent Thornton has more to take away from his third Grapefruit League outing than he did over the five no-hit outings that he began his spring with. Facing

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Continuing to make his case for the fifth spot in the Blue Jays' rotation out of Spring Training, Trent Thornton has more to take away from his third Grapefruit League outing than he did over the five no-hit outings that he began his spring with.

Facing the Red Sox at JetBlue Park on Saturday, the 26-year-old right-hander didn't work ahead as much as he'd hoped to and made some decisions he later second-guessed in his pitch sequencing, but he came away knowing that any mistakes made are easily fixable. Thornton allowed two runs on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings in a 5-2 loss to Boston.

"Everything felt pretty good," he said. "Curveball felt as good as it has all spring, it was biting real late. Fastball location could have been a little bit better, but that comes with if I'm working ahead -- makes the innings go by a lot easier. … They hit a couple balls hard, [but] other than that, I felt pretty good out there and I felt like I was making some pitches when I needed to for the most part. Just one of those days."

Despite the outcome, Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo was encouraged by what he saw from his young hurler and is excited to see that the fight for a big league roster spot has ignited a fire in Thornton.

"That's always good for the kids to be competing for a job," Montoyo said. "He's throwing hard and he looks good to me. He's doing what it takes to be the fifth starter."

Bringing the heat

Toronto's top prospect Nate Pearson made his third Grapefruit League appearance on Saturday and kept his scoreless-innings streak alive with two more blemish-free frames. The 23-year-old right-hander worked around two walks in the fifth inning of the loss before putting up a perfect bottom of the sixth. He brought his spring strikeout total up to nine over five frames with three more against Boston.

"He wasn't as sharp today," Montoyo said. "He's been striking out everybody, but he still came back in the second inning to [get two strikeouts]. He just looks good to me. I don't know what else I can say about the kid. He wasn't as sharp today, but good enough."

Pearson used only 27 pitches against the Red Sox, prompting the Blue Jays to send him to the bullpen to throw 15 more before leaving the field. The flamethrower's fastball sat between 96-97 mph -- according to the JetBlue stadium radar gun -- and got up to 99 mph. He threw four sliders and four curveballs, using the outing to work on his offspeed offerings.

"It was one of those days where I didn't have my best stuff," Pearson said. "It's one of my priority goals to get my curveball working, [and] I can't do that unless I throw it a lot, so that's what I was trying to do. The first inning I stuck with it. I still have to work on it. .. The other two [outings], I didn't even throw any curveballs. Coming into this outing I really wanted to throw it a lot."

Pearson was followed out of the bullpen by Julian Merryweather, who is Toronto's No. 25 prospect. The 28-year-old righty -- coming off a lengthy recovery from Tommy John surgery -- also got his fastball up to 99 mph on the stadium gum, and worked in his changeup -- one of the best in the organization -- in the seventh inning. He allowed one run on two hits and struck out one.

"That's good for us, [having] power arms like that," Montoyo said of Pearson and Merryweather, who are both slated to start the season at Triple-A Buffalo. "He's a power arm, too, so he's got a chance. And he's healthy, that's always good."

Life is a highway

As the clock ticked down to the time Toronto was scheduled to take batting practice at JetBlue Park on Saturday, Montoyo and first baseman Travis Shaw were the only Blue Jays to be found on the field in Fort Myers. Because of an overnight shooting death of a driver and an active police investigation on I-75 South, a 12-mile stretch of Toronto's direct route to Fenway South was closed, causing a significant delay for the team bus, carrying the majority of the travel roster and club staff.

"At least I knew we had pitching," Montoyo said of his hurlers traveling separately. "All the pitchers got here. But we needed some guys to field the ball, so I was thinking about you [members of the media]."

Up next

Matt Shoemaker will make his second appearance of the spring on Sunday when the Blue Jays host the Phillies at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, with first pitch set for 1:07 p.m. ET. Beginning his comeback after losing most of last season to a torn ACL, the 33-year-old right-hander impressed in his first Grapefruit League outing, allowing just one hit over a scoreless 2 2/3 innings with five strikeouts on Monday.

Alexis Brudnicki is a Canada-based Baseball Development and Special Projects reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.