Thornton fuelled by redemption in Blue Jays’ win over Astros

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Trent Thornton delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros, Sunday, June 16, 2019, in Houston. (Eric Christian Smith/AP)

HOUSTON – Trent Thornton pitched like a man possessed against the Houston Astros, the team that made him a fifth-round draft pick in 2015 but then had no opportunity for him once he was on the cusp of the majors.

The intensity and focus was clear on his face from his first pitch Sunday, a 93.7 m.p.h., fastball Alex Bregman sent meekly to right field for an easy out, to his last, another four-seamer at 93.3 m.p.h. that Myles Straw popped lazily to left. Once Justin Shafer struck out Michael Brantley to strand the pair of runners he left aboard with two outs in the seventh, Thornton popped out of the dugout to give the right-hander a hug as he came off the field.

So, yeah, the 6.2 innings of shutout ball for the rookie right-hander in a 12-0 Toronto Blue Jays thumping of the Houston Astros – no typos there, skeptics – meant a little something to him. He allowed six hits and walked three with seven strikeouts in containing a lineup filled with former teammates who got their chance with the defending AL West champions, an opportunity he didn’t.

“I’ve been looking forward to pitching against the Astros for a while and I knew I was going to be pretty amped up for this game and wanted to settle things down and focus on each pitch and execute every pitch,” said Thornton, who long ago checked the schedule and counted the days to make sure he’d be on turn for this series. “For the most part I was able to do that.”

Thornton was traded to the Blue Jays back in November for utility-man Aledmys Diaz, a tidy and cost-effective replacement for departed free agent Marwin Gonzalez. In Toronto, there was urgent need for an arm like his, Ryan Borucki’s injury at the end of spring training opened a spot and through 15 spots he’s making the most of his opportunity.

With 80 strikeouts so far, he’s amassed more K’s through his first 15 starts than any other Blue Jays pitcher, one more than Ricky Romero. The 6.2 innings marked the second longest start of his career, trailing only the seven innings of one-run ball he threw at Texas on May 3.

“It was just going to be a fun game to pitch, a little bit of a chip on my shoulder,” said Thornton, adding later: “It wasn’t personal at all. You’re just playing against a bunch of your friends so you want to do better than them. That was a lot of fun. My dad (Jeff) was able to be here so it was nice to see him before and after the game. It was a pretty neat experience.”

BIG BATS: The Blue Jays jumped Brad Peacock right out of the gate as Eric Sogard tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., before Rowdy Tellez hit his 11th homer of the season. They proceeded to drop a season-high nine extra base hits, including a 2019 best five home runs.

Teoscar Hernandez hit two of them against his former team, including one of two three-run homers in a seven-run sixth that put this one to bed. Freddy Galvis hit the other three-run shot while Gurriel added a two-run drive in the fifth.

“It was a good road trip for us swinging the bats,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “Of course we faced a couple of tough pitchers from Houston, but other than that, 3-3 road trip, we swung the bats better, it was great to see.”

GUERRERO RETURNS: Saying that his left hand wasn’t “100 per cent but good to play,” Vladimir Guerrero Jr., returned to the Blue Jays lineup after being hit by a Gerrit Cole fastball.

Guerrero went 1-for-5 as the DH and didn’t look fully comfortable, as he made sure not to high five a pumped Teoscar Hernandez at home after the homer in the sixth. Guerrero had been on base and scored ahead of the centre-fielder.

FAMILY TIES: Lourdes Gurriel watched his sons play against each other in the major-leagues for the first time this weekend so, fittingly on Father’s Day, he was invited to throw out the first pitch Sunday to Houston Astros infielder Yulieski Gurriel.

“It was a big surprise for me,” Lourdes Gurriel Jr., said through interpreter Hector Lebron moments after hearing the news Sunday morning. “We’re having a great time the family together.”

Junior closed out a series that included a pair of outfield assists in Saturday’s 7-2 Blue Jays loss and then dropped the hammer Sunday with a sacrifice fly, two-run homer and RBI single. Yulieski had the day off, leaving dad with no conflict in the final.

“He doesn’t want to get into the teams, he watches us as individuals,” said Junior. “(Saturday) night we all got together and talked about the game, but individually, because he doesn’t want to root for one or the other.”

Given that it was Father’s Day, Junior thought a lot about the impact his dad – revered as one of Cuba’s greatest stars – had on him, “not just as a baseball player but as a human being.” He was too young to watch his dad play, but was managed by him on Sancti Spiritus in the Cuban National Series.

“He was my first manager,” said Gurriel. “He was good but he was also very tough on me. He showed me a lot. He was tough basically with anything regarding baseball – weights, running the bases, hitting, I had to do it 100 per cent, all the time.”

The Gurriels were all together on that team, including middle brother Yunieski, an outfielder who spent two years playing on Quebec of the Can-Am League. He and dad have been giving tips to Junior on his outfield play.

“Yunieski was an outfielder and they’ve been helping me a lot during the transition,” said Junior. “They’re all over me all the time. It’s helped me a lot.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.