BOSTON – Trent Thornton's father, Jeff, called him on Friday shortly before he took the hill at Fenway Park in Boston to face the Red Sox. Jeff, of course, knew that his son had grown up as a Red Sox fan, dreaming of one day launching into MLB's oldest field. So he wanted to do his part to keep his son focused.
"He was like," Hey, dude, enjoy it, "Thornton said. "I know you've always wanted to do this, but do not let the game hasten on you.Just have fun.Go there and show what you can do."
What Thornton did was to close a Red Sox lineup that came in at night with a .877 OPS, the fourth-highest in the American League.
The Blue Jays rookie allowed only two runs on eight hits in 6.1 innings, eliminating seven while riding only one. It was his second stellar exit against a very potent offense after Thornton held the Houston Astros – second in the AL with a .812 OPS – without scoring more than 6.2 innings last time.
"He was a good bulldog out there and I love watching that kid pitch," said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. "He's in charge, he's not scared." Even here – he plays with all that noise and stuff, he keeps fighting and making good plays when he needs to.
The start of Houston was particularly significant for Thornton, who was called by the Astros, but failed to break the rotation, which led to his career at the Blue Jays off season. But casting before the green monster carried even more meaning.
"Since I was a kid, I wanted to participate here, so I was a little excited." I knew I had to slow things down, focus and breathe, "Thornton said. "My ride out there was a lot slower than usual – just looking around, like," Man, that's pretty cool. "
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Thornton now carries a 4.25 ERA through his first 16 starts in the majors. He fought consistency as many young pitchers do, but he has shown encouraging numbers of attack throughout, and now boasts 9.5 K / 9. Walks has been a problem at times, but he allowed only one free pass against the Red Sox, a team with the fourth highest baseball hike.
Interestingly, Thronton has relied on his ball quickly much later, after throwing balls predominantly earlier in the season. Against the Astros, he played 72 fastballs or cutters and only 28 pitches. On Friday, there were 60 fastballs and cutters against 42 breaking balls.
There were times earlier this season, when those numbers were very close to it. Thornton acknowledges that the difference is purposeful, but he was not interested in explaining why he made the adjustment.
"Yeah, I looked at some numbers and stuff," he said. "I do not want to go too deep into it, but yes."
Romano continues to impress
Everything was going so well for Jordan Romano. Making just the fourth major league game of his career, the Markham, Ont. Native was knocking down the Red Sox hitters while trying to keep a game tied at the end of day 9.
He made Andrew Benintendi go through 97 m.p. heater, J.D. Martinez to chase a 96 m.p. rapid ball above the zone, and Brock Holt to blow at 94 m.p.h. step at the end of a 9-pitch grind at the bat. Romano was all excited when he left the mountain after that:
And he picked up where he left off when he returned to the 10th, eliminating his first two batters in just 9 pitches. But after beating Marco Hernandez, 0-2, he cut the elbow of Red Sox's second baseman with a quick inside ball, extending the inning. Then it was Christian Vazquez, who Romano stepped forward again, but could not get away. So he left this quick ball on the plate:
Not like Romano wanted to finish his tour. But the way he pitched the two high-leverage prizes attracted high praise from Montoyo, who could soon consider Romano in a preparation role for Toronto's upcoming film, Ken Giles.
"He likes to be out there in difficult times," he said. "He was closing the games in triple A." "Of course, it's not the same, but now we know he's not afraid either," Montoyo said. "He has a good slider and he plays 95, 96. He reaches 98. And he attacks, he has what it takes to pitch at the end of the turn."
Among the players Romano now attacked in his brief MLB career: Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Martinez. These are some of the best hitters in the game. And he did it with an aggressive mindset, going after them with his fast mid-to-high 90 ball
His slider is also impressive. Friday he demonstrated the ability to launch him into the attacks, both called and swinging. He used this early in the count, working from behind for batters and late in the count as a pitch. It's encouraging, especially when it's happening in a stressful situation at Fenway Park.
"It's a lot of fun to watch, he can play very, very well, his fastball is electric," Thornton said. "He has all the confidence in the world right now – he's eliminating everyone."
Romano has eliminated 11 of 19 MLB hitters he has faced so far. Only two of those 19 came out with hits. The problem is that both were home runs – a solo shot of Justin Upton on Wednesday and Vázquez's pass to the center-right field. This is the roller coaster where many peacekeepers run, and Romano knows it well.
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He began learning about life in the sport when he auditioned for the Texas Rangers last spring as a choice of Rule 5. He was also closer to college by promoting Oral Roberts University.
But the Blue Jays had invested three years of development as initiator, and Romano had worked hard to develop a change to complete his repertoire. Then, when he returned to the organization after spring training, the Blue Jays gave one last chance.
That lasted only four games, and when moving to the bullpen in early May, Romano scored 25 over 17.2 innings, winning his first major league call. Romano's experience as a starter was why Montoyo was able to extend him to two innings against the Red Sox, which was useful on the eve of a planned work day on Saturday. The Blue Jays had Romano in a 40-step limit for the tour. Your final speech to Vazquez? It was Romano's 40th.
"I felt very good, no one wants to leave, it's a very bad feeling, but I'm happy with the way I played," Romano said. "My MO is that I attack the guys, I go after them, and I thought I did a good job of it tonight, unfortunately I just hit that last hitter there."
Montoyo repeatedly referred to Romano as "part of our future" when we discussed it after the game, and it's easy to see why he thinks so, considering how confident the 26-year-old has been at the top. With just a quick ball and slider, Romano will need that aggressive mentality – not to mention his premium speed – to succeed. And if his command is not good, he will be susceptible to home runs.
But beyond the two long balls, he's been excellent. And considering its positive side as a hard-thrower capable of striking very good batters at the end of the turn, Romano will have plenty of opportunities to prove he belongs.
"I feel like if I keep doing the same thing, I'll be fine." Just attacking hitters. "Of course, I'll hit the occasional time like tonight." But I feel like going ahead if I keep it flat , I'll be fine, "Romano said. "I like the bigger picture, when we're in the 8th, 9th, and 10th at Fenway, every shot you play matters – it helps me focus a bit."