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Thornton solid as Blue Jays top Rays

TORONTO – After more than his share of highs and lows rookie right-handed starter Trent Thornton finished his first season with the Toronto Blue Jays on a high.

The 25-year-old from Charlotte, N.C. allowed one hit over five innings and struck out eight Tampa Bay Rays in a 4-1 win in his final start in 2019 on Saturday.

“I obviously had my ups and downs, but I was able to bounce back for the most part,” Thornton (6-9) said. “I was kind of going with the flow and trying to make the most of the opportunity.”

He made the most of his second half. After he lost some of his velocity the Blue Jays brass decided to give him an 11-day break in late July. Thornton bounced back with a better finish.

“I think the rest that he got was perfect for him,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He needed that. After he came back from that rest, he was throwing harder. He was throwing at 93 (mph) first, and then he went down to 90, 91. When he came back from he was stronger.

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“He’s really pitched well in his last nine starts for sure, and a great job again today.”

In his last nine starts, Thornton checked in with a 3.15 ERA. He finished with 149 strikeouts, tops among American League rookies, and the second-best rookie showing in Blue Jays history behind Mark Eichhorn’s 166 in 1986.

Thornton credited Toronto pitching coach Pete Walker as well as veteran teammates Clay Buchholz and Clayton Richard for their guidance in his first season in the Majors.

He made alterations to his delivery as well as grip changes to his curveball and change-up.

“Before I would have categorized myself as a thrower,” Thornton said. “I thought I was a pitcher. But I learned so much this year.

“I feel I’m becoming more of a complete pitcher. Am I where I want to be? Not yet. But I’m getting there.”

He heads into the off-season to work on his conditioning, improve his curveball and change-up, and elevate his fastball. But he’s not taking a spot in the Blue Jays rotation in 2020 for granted.

“You’re not guaranteed anything in this game,” he said. “I’m going to work extremely hard in the off-season and prove that I belong here. I’m still going to have a chip on my shoulder.”

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His two biggest highlights were his first MLB start against the Detroit Tigers with his family in the stands at Rogers Centre for the no-decision loss on Mar. 31, and defeating the Houston Astros 12-0 on Father’s Day with his father in attendance at Minute Maid Park.

Thornton was drafted by the Astros and traded to the Blue Jays last November.

Thornton looked to be struggling early in his 103-pitch outing, walking Tommy Pham and Brandon Lowe with two out in the first and needing 36 pitches to get out of the inning.

Montoyo said he was “five-to-10” pitches from not finishing the inning. After Matt Duffy’s single to left Thornton retired 11 of the next 13 batters with two more walks issued.

Rays starter Ryan Yarbrough (11-6) could not shake his first-inning follies as the first four Blue Jays checked in with hits. Teoscar Hernandez greeted Yarbrough with a homer to straightaway centre field for his 25th of the season and fourth in his 13-game on-base streak.

Rookie Cavan Biggio extended his on-base streak to 28 games, a team-high this season, with a single to left field. He scored on Randal Grichuk’s triple down the right-field line. Grichuk was knocked in by Rowdy Tellez, who singled to right.

Yarbrough, a lefty, also lasted five innings. But he hasn’t won since picking up his 11th victory on Aug. 11 against the Seattle Mariners.

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The Blue Jays were without rookie third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who suffered right knee soreness from rounding second base in the 6-2 loss on Friday. He’s listed as day-to-day.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2019.