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Blue Jays give early rotation spot to rookie Trent Thornton

March 27, 2019
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Milwaukee Brewers' Nate Orf steals second base ahead of the tag by Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Lourdes Gurriel Jr. during the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers in Montreal on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Milwaukee Brewers' Nate Orf steals second base ahead of the tag by Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Lourdes Gurriel Jr. during the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers in Montreal on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

MONTREAL (AP) — With opening day fast approaching, the Toronto Blue Jays filled a hole in their rotation.

The team added Trent Thornton to the group, giving the 25-year-old right-hander a chance to make his major league debut while the Blue Jays await the return of injured pitchers Ryan Borucki and Clay Buchholz.

Thornton will start Sunday against the Detroit Tigers, going fourth in the rotation in front of veteran left-hander Clayton Richard. Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Matt Shoemaker are the top three.

“It killed me yesterday, I couldn’t tell Trent,” new Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said Tuesday. “He was in Florida, so somebody else did.”

Montoyo made the announcement before his team’s spring training finale against the Milwaukee Brewers, a 2-0 win for Toronto at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. His decision to start Thornton before Richard was based purely on matchups against upcoming opponents. The Blue Jays play Baltimore after their opening series with the Tigers.

“Detroit is more right-hander heavy,” Montoyo said. “And the Orioles are not, so that’s why we’re doing it that way.”

Montoyo didn’t say Thornton would necessarily move to the bullpen once Borucki returns from injury.

Toronto acquired Thornton from the Houston Astros in the offseason for infielder Aledmys Diaz. Thornton went 9-8 with a 4.42 ERA at Triple-A Fresno last season. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Astros in 2015 and was ranked Houston’s No. 24 prospect at the time of the trade, per MLB Pipeline.

His last start came Saturday when a Blue Jays split squad beat the New York Yankees 7-3. He gave up a three-run homer to Gleyber Torres in the first inning but settled down after that, allowing four hits with four strikeouts and two walks over 3 2/3 innings.

“He’s got the stuff to compete in the big leagues,” Montoyo said. “That game I saw against the Yankees, with a good lineup? I thought he was very good. It tells me that he’s ready to compete in the big leagues. It was just one start, but he’s got the stuff to do it.”

With the five-man rotation set, Montoyo was turning his attention to the bullpen. While pitcher Sam Gaviglio has also made the team, Thomas Pannone remained in the mix as well.

Borucki, coming off a solid rookie season with Toronto in 2018, will open the year on the injured list because of a sore elbow. The 24-year-old experienced discomfort during spring training. Borucki and Ryan Tepera, also out with a tender elbow, played catch before Tuesday’s game.

Buchholz and Tepera should be ready to join the big league club by mid-April, Montoyo said. Bud Norris, on the mend from forearm fatigue, was scheduled to throw a bullpen Tuesday.

“We don’t want to rush him,” Montoyo said. “We’ve got to see how he’s doing. He could be two more bullpens, another game, we’ll see.”

Montoyo also said top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ahead of schedule in his rehab from an oblique injury.

“He’s swinging the bat now,” Montoyo said. “He’s doing well.”

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