Blue Jays: Who will be the team’s fifth starting pitcher?

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 21: Manager Charlie Montoyo #25 of the Toronto Blue Jays signals the bullpen to make a pitching change against the Oakland Athletics in the bottom of the eighth inning of a Major League Baseball game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on April 21, 2019 in Oakland, California. the Blue Jays won the game 5-4. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 21: Manager Charlie Montoyo #25 of the Toronto Blue Jays signals the bullpen to make a pitching change against the Oakland Athletics in the bottom of the eighth inning of a Major League Baseball game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on April 21, 2019 in Oakland, California. the Blue Jays won the game 5-4. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 05: Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches to the Tampa Bay Rays in the first inning of a baseball game at Tropicana Field on September 05, 2019 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 05: Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches to the Tampa Bay Rays in the first inning of a baseball game at Tropicana Field on September 05, 2019 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

Trent Thornton

In my mind, the clubhouse leader to round out the rotation has to be Trent Thornton, who was the Blue Jays’ most reliable starter last season. He’ll have to perform well during Spring Training for that to matter, but I felt like the 26-year-old took some significant steps last year, especially later in the season.

His overall stats don’t look that great, as he finished the year going 6-9 with a 4.84 ERA and 1.401 WHIP over 29 starts (32 appearances), good for 1.8 bWAR. His 154.1 innings in 2019 were badly needed, and the Blue Jays didn’t really have the luxury of sending him back to Triple-A when he was struggling during a mid-season stretch.

It was the last month or so that really left me encouraged by Thornton’s potential, and what leads me to believe that he’ll have the leg up to join the four veterans on Opening Day. The right-hander made five appearances over 24.2 innings in September and pitched to a 2.19 ERA over the month. His opponents had an OPS of just .471 over those last 99 plate appearances, and it looked like Thornton had things under control at all times. In fact, if you erased his clunker against the Rays on August 6th when he allowed six earned runs over 3.2 innings, he was pretty solid in August too.

Since the 2019 campaign was just his rookie season, Thornton does have minor league options remaining, and because of that there’s a chance that he starts the year in Buffalo. It was just last week that I wrote about how I believe he should be a lock for the rotation next season, and even with the new additions, I still believe that to be the case. If the Blue Jays take the 2019 season into consideration at all, chances are Thornton should get the first crack at the job.

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