Thornton to start season in rotation as Blue Jays roster takes shape

The Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 2-0 to split their two-game series in Montreal.

MONTREAL – The Toronto Blue Jays headed for home with all but one spot on their 25-man roster resolved, informing 19-year-old Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano, lefty Thomas Pannone and infielder Richard Urena they’d made the club after a 2-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night.

Earlier in the day manager Charlie Montoyo revealed that Trent Thornton will step into Ryan Borucki’s spot in the rotation to open the season and start Sunday’s series finale against the Detroit Tigers, with Sam Gaviglio earning a spot in the bullpen as the long reliever.

The final spot will go to a pitcher, with non-roster invitee Javy Guerra travelling with the Blue Jays to Toronto. Bud Norris, who threw a bullpen session in Dunedin, Fla., without issue Tuesday, is a candidate for the 25th spot as well, and they could also look externally for more help.

“It’s tough when you’re telling guys they’re not making the club and it’s good when you’re telling guys they’ve made the club,” said Montoyo. “You can see it in their faces, the guys that are disappointed and the guys that are happy. The last half hour was just like that – disappointment and happiness. That’s part of the game.”

All the players named to the opening day roster are on the 40-man roster, preventing the Blue Jays from having to shuffle their asset base. Candidates like Justin Shafer, Jason Adam and Eric Sogard are all on minor-league contracts and would have forced someone off the 40.

Guerra or Norris would require that move, although the Blue Jays could transfer Dalton Pompey onto the 60-day injured list to clear that spot. Given that he suffered a third concussion since 2016 in a bizarre locker mishap with a bat, he’s unlikely to return any time soon.

Of those named to the roster, Luciano is the most intriguing.

The Blue Jays must keep him on the 25-man roster all year or offer him back to the Kansas City Royals, and hiding the electric-armed righty who hadn’t previously pitched above rookie ball is going to be a challenge. He secured his spot by striking out Christian Yelich and inducing a Jesus Aguilar flyout Monday, recovering after hitting Lorenzo Cain to open his inning.

“It feels great,” Luciano said of making the club through an interpreter. “That’s what I wanted all my life and I got it.”

Pannone locked down his spot with two shutout innings Tuesday, giving Montoyo a second lefty out of the bullpen. He’ll also offer some length in the event it’s needed, teaming with Gaviglio to eat up innings.

“Obviously, I had a lot on my mind – I wanted to make this team so bad,” said Pannone. “I was under a little bit of pressure and wanted to come out and continue to perform and show them that I’m ready to pitch in the big-leagues.”

So here’s how the roster stands:

Catchers: Danny Jansen, Luke Maile

Infielders: Justin Smoak, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Freddy Galvis, Brandon Drury, Richard Urena

Outfielders: Kevin Pillar, Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney

Designated Hitter: Kendrys Morales

Starting Rotation: Marcus Stroman, Matt Shoemaker, Aaron Sanchez, Trent Thornton, Clayton Richard

Bullpen: Ken Giles, Daniel Hudson, Tim Mayza, Joe Biagini, Sam Gaviglio, Elvis Luciano, Thomas Pannone

In Limbo: Javy Guerra (NR), Bud Norris (NR)

Headed to Injured Reserve: Ryan Borucki, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Tepera, David Phelps, Dalton Pompey, Devon Travis (60-day)

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

INJURY UPDATES: Ryan Borucki played catch in Dunedin on Tuesday for the first time since cutting a minor-league outing short because of elbow discomfort. Initially, the Blue Jays hoped he’d only miss one start, but Charlie Montoyo said, “young guy like that, long season, probably two starts would be my guess that he’s going to miss.”

That means Thornton, who impressed Saturday with 3.2 innings against the Yankees marred only by a three-run Gleyber Torres homer in the first, might get some run, especially with Clay Buchholz still looking at a minimum of three additional minor-league outings, starting with a 45-pitch game Wednesday.

“(Thornton) has got the stuff to compete in the big-leagues, for sure,” said Montoyo. “That game against the Yankees’ good lineup, I thought he was very good. That tells me he’s ready to compete in the big-leagues. It was just one start, but he’s got the stuff to do it.”

Ryan Tepera, meanwhile, also payed catch Tuesday for the first time since elbow inflammation sent him to an arm specialist. Expected to be a key part of the bullpen, Montoyo described a mid-April return “as our goal right now.”

Given their looming returns, the Blue Jays are sure to factor in 40-man roster decisions when weighing how best to break camp.

VLAD SWINGS: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., sidelined by a left oblique strain, has started swinging the bat in the cage and Charlie Montoyo said baseball’s top prospect is “ahead of schedule.”

“He’s doing well,” added Montoyo, who said the next step will be for the 20-year-old will be playing games, although there’s no timeframe for that. “We’re taking it slowly, but his injury wasn’t that bad, so that’s why he’s swinging the bat already.

“Get a couple of games in extended (spring training) and stuff, and then send him to (triple-A) Buffalo.”

SHORT HOPS: Blue Jays prospect Kevin Smith, who impressed last season at low-A Lansing and advanced-A Dunedin, will open the season at double-A New Hampshire. … Clayton Richard will pitch Monday’s series opener against the Baltimore Orioles to avoid Detroit’s righty heavy lineup.

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