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Blue Jays: Trent Thornton will face new challenges later on

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22: Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 22, 2019 in New York City. The Yankees defeated the Blue Jays 8-3. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22: Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 22, 2019 in New York City. The Yankees defeated the Blue Jays 8-3. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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Trent Thornton was the leading candidate for the fifth starter’s job in the Blue Jays rotation, but by the time baseball resumes, he could have new challenges to face.

Pretty much every player across Major League Baseball is feeling the frustration of having spring training stopped due to the Covid-19 virus outbreak, and that’s especially the case for those who were on track to win a big league job.

Trent Thornton is someone who could fit that description, and even though he was pretty much the only fixture in Charlie Montoyo‘s rotation last season, he was still in a battle for a job during Grapefruit League play before things were halted. After finishing the 2019 season on a high-note, Thornton seemed like he should be a lock for the rotation in 2020, but the Blue Jays also added a lot of veteran depth over the winter.

With the addition of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, and bringing back Matt Shoemaker, the Blue Jays more or less had four of the five jobs spoken for as long as everyone remained healthy. That meant that Thornton would have to fend off others looking for that fifth starter’s role such as Shun Yamaguchi, Ryan Borucki, Anthony Kay, and more, all who are arguably capable of contributing in a big league rotation.

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Thornton hadn’t been lights out this spring by any means, but he was pretty universally viewed as the frontrunner for a few reasons. Borucki had to be shut down early in spring and would have had his regular season delayed if it started on time. Yamaguchi has struggled to adjust to pitching in North America thus far, and Kay put up a 7.36 ERA and a 2.18 WHIP over his first 7.1 innings. Anderson also hasn’t been very good thus far either, leaving Thornton’s 4.22 ERA over 10.2 to look pretty good.

All that said, now that the season has been delayed, suddenly Thornton will face a whole new set of challenges in his path to keeping a big league job. Borucki should be healthy by the time baseball returns, and he’s a viable candidate to steal the job. Yamaguchi will get more time to work with a new baseball and the other variables that have tripped him up so far, and Kay will get a fresh start as well.

And of course, there’s also Nate Pearson.

If there’s a silver lining for the Blue Jays with the delay to the season, it’s that it’s now possible that Pearson could pitch in the big leagues for the entire season, even if it’s an abbreviated one. The Blue Jays’ top prospect was expected to start the year in Triple-A in order to protect his innings count, and let’s face it, to manipulate his service time. Now that baseball likely won’t resume until June at the earliest, he could be a frontrunner to join the rotation regardless of how the rest of the group is performing.

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Obviously a lot could change before the regular season begins, and an injury or two could change everything on the depth chart. However, for the moment it looks like Thornton may be particularly feeling the burn of the work stoppage, and he’ll have to start from scratch to earn his place when things get fired up again. The good news is, that should bring out the best in him, and the rest of the Blue Jays starting pitchers.

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