Connect with us

Sports

Stronger Trent Thornton aims to secure job in Blue Jays’ rotation – Sportsnet.ca

Published

 on


TAMPA – As he strolled through the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse one recent morning, Trent Thornton was stopped by a teammate who patted the right-hander on the chest and gave him an approving nod.

“Yeah, I’m super-big now,” Thornton said, grinning in self-deprecation at the hyperbole.

He may not be all swole, as the kids say these days, but the 26-year-old favourite for the fifth starter’s job is certainly stronger this spring after dramatically intensifying the amount of weight he pushed around during his off-season workouts.

The regimen, created for him by the Blue Jays, was vastly different from those in years past, when he’s “been nervous about getting bulkier” out of fear it would come at the expense of his athleticism. The key was finding a balance in order to build up more so he’s better prepared to withstand the rigours of hauling starter innings over the course of a big-league season.

“I’ve stressed flexibility my whole life so I wanted to make sure I was doing everything necessary to keep that flexibility and range of motion,” Thornton said. “Normally, during the off-season prior to this one, I hadn’t gotten much treatment or soft tissue (work) and now I was going twice a week, making sure my muscles were loose.

“Deadlifts were one of my biggest things, getting my legs stronger. I definitely focused on my lower half, but everything I did, I intensified the weight. I’m not saying I’m jacked by any means, because I’m not, but I wanted to prove to myself that I’m stronger than I thought I am, so I pushed myself harder as far as actual weight goes.”

The looming grind will actually determine how many dividends he reaps from all that.

More immediate feedback on another winter focal point, honing his changeup, came Saturday during two clean innings of work in the Blue Jays’ 2-1 win over the New York Yankees in their Grapefruit League opener.

Thornton was a little wild out of the gate, walking leadoff batter D.J. LeMahieu, before settling quickly and retiring six straight. Most important from his vantage point were the three changeups he threw that “felt really, really good.”

“I got a swing and miss,” he continued. “I threw one for a ball, but it was a strike-to-ball type pitch, depending on what the count was. And I got a weak contact…

“It has been the worst pitch for me every year,” he added later. “To feel that confident in it, this early, is definitely a good sign for me because I think it can open up a big door for me just being able to play other pitches off that. It’s another huge weapon because I think the changeup is one of the best pitches in baseball.”

To put that in perspective, Statcast data doesn’t identify a single change he threw in 2019, when he was the only Blue Jays starter to both start and finish the season in the rotation and led the team with 154.1 innings pitched and 149 strikeouts.

Thornton’s primary weapons are his fastball, slider and curveball, all thrown at an 88th percentile spin rate that suggests significant upside for the offerings. He’s also throwing a two-seamer and a cutter, but fastball command, something that was rusty Saturday, remains pivotal.

“I know my stuff plays, my stuff is good enough,” he said. “If I’m behind in counts, it doesn’t matter.”

A reliable changeup helps a pitcher control bat speed and can sometimes be used to get easy outs early in the count. Thornton began tinkering with the pitch toward the end of last season, when he began copying some of Clay Buchholz’s grips.

“I didn’t just pick it up, I stole it from him,” Thornton quipped of how he’s now gripping his change, which “fades down and away (from righties) and plays off the two-seam that I picked up as well.”

“It’s just coming out of my hand much better on a more consistent basis and that’s the biggest thing for me, because I would cut changeups,” he added. “I would just throw them in the first, miss up. But now I’m getting that pretty consistent action with it where I can pretty much put it where I want to.”

Manager Charlie Montoyo pointed to the change as one of the afternoon’s highlights for Thornton, pleased enough to add that, “I’m hoping he builds from that and takes it into the season.”

The exact role for Thornton is officially undetermined, although given all he accomplished last season he’d really need to show poorly and have someone pitch him out of a job.

Still, he’s wisely taking nothing for granted, saying the ostensible competition with Shun Yamaguchi and the delayed Ryan Borucki, who is set to start playing catch Monday after experiencing elbow tightness, “lights a fire under your butt.”

Hence the work this winter, with visions of not only surpassing his inning total but also bettering the nine quality starts he delivered as a rookie, an important personal measure of performance.

“It was a little hard to do last year because I was on a pitch count and I was on an innings-limit type thing, but if I have a quality start, I’m doing everything right,” Thornton said. “I’m getting deep into the game, I’m giving the team a chance to win and I’m most likely getting guys out. That’s what I look at, not necessarily ERA. Strikeouts are nice, but if I can keep the team in the game, I’m doing my job as a starter.”

By simply surviving last year, Thornton more than accomplished that. He’s looking for more now, trusting in the work he put in over the winter to help ensure it happens.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Sports

Joshua Roy off to a hot start at the World Juniors – Habs Eyes on the Prize

Published

 on


The Montreal Canadiens have several prospects in action at this summer’s World Junior Hockey Championship in Edmonton. In today’s episode of Habsent Minded Extra, I’m taking a look at how fifth-rounder Joshua Roy has become a key member of the powerhouse Canadians in their quest for gold.

He has played most of his minutes so far on the top line with Mason McTavish and Connor Bedard. That trio has been relied upon to drive offense for the team so far, and while their initial contest against Latvia was somewhat lukewarm, they exploded against Slovakia on Thursday night.

In a selfless act, Roy gave up a chance at a breakaway and his first goal of the tournament by passing to McTavish, and insisting that the latter take his attempt at notching the hat trick, which he did.

With the game well in hand for Canada in the third period, head coach Dave Cameron brought out the line blender. This saw Roy shifted down in the lineup to play with Islanders prospect William Dufour, and Senators prospect Zack Ostapchuk. An eyebrow raiser at first given Roy’s performance, but it yielded results almost immediately.

Roy scored his first goal of the tournament, and added an assist on an Ostapchuk goal to finish with four points against Slovakia, tying him for second in tournament scoring behind McTavish.

Whether that line blending sticks or not, Roy showed in this game is that he can produce wherever they put him in the lineup. With Dufour and Ostapchuk, he actually gets to play more of a similar trigger-man role that he’s used to in Sherbrooke, and it may even help his overall production.

His selflessness, and acceptance of a checking and puck retrieval role with the top guns means they can put him right back on that top line as well. After barely missing out on the roster for the ill-fated December 2021 tournament, he has established himself as a versatile tool for team Canada.

That versatility should earn him plenty of playing time for the remainder of this tournament, and could make him a no-brainer for a big role with the team when they reconvene in December for the next one.

Click the play button below to listen to my full thoughts on Roy’s hot start ahead of tonight’s game against Czechia.

Adblock test (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Sports

Series preview: Blue Jays head into crucial set against surging Guardians – Sportsnet.ca

Published

 on


We may be in the dog days of August but the American League wild-card race is intensifying to the point where every series carries weight for contending teams.

That’s been the case for the Toronto Blue Jays all month and will continue as the club opens a three-game set at Rogers Centre against the Cleveland Guardians on Friday.

Here is a look at the Guardians-Blue Jays series.

Probable pitchers

Friday, 7:07 p.m. ET: Cleveland RHP Cal Quantrill (8-5, 3.88 ERA) vs. Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (8-4, 5.19 ERA)

Saturday, 3:07 p.m. ET: Cleveland RHP Triston McKenzie (8-8, 3.16 ERA) vs. TBA

Sunday, 1:37 p.m. ET: Cleveland RHP Shane Bieber (7-6, 3.21 ERA) vs. TBA

(All games on Sportsnet)

Latest on the Blue Jays

The Blue Jays (60-50) currently sit atop the AL wild-card standings with a half-game lead over the Mariners and a two-game lead over the third-place Tampa Bay Rays.

The Blue Jays are coming off a 3-5 road trip through Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Baltimore. You could make the argument that Toronto got lucky when Wednesday’s game in Baltimore was rained out, given the weather prevented an opportunity to be swept in three games by the surging Orioles.

The Blue Jays’ record against teams above .500 stands at 29-38 and that will need to improve in a hurry. Following the set against Cleveland, Toronto will host the Orioles for three games and then head to Yankee Stadium for a four-game series.

It’s fair to say this is an important stretch for a Blue Jays club that lost outfielder George Springer, starter Ross Stripling and reliever Tim Mayza to the injured list on the recent road trip.

Latest on the Guardians

The AL Central-leading Guardians (59-52) arrive in Toronto fresh off a sweep of the Detroit Tigers and have won eight of their last 11 games.

In recent years, the Guardians have typically been buoyed by their pitching staff. That area has been a struggle for the team for parts of this season,but  it looks to be rounding into form.

Each of the three starters Cleveland will throw at the Blue Jays — Cal Quantrill, Triston McKenzie and Shane Bieber — is coming off a dominant, scoreless outing. Since the all-star break, the right-handed trio has combined for a 3.48 ERA over 12 starts.

Reliever James Karinchak won’t make the trip to Toronto due to Canadian vaccination requirements.

Home sweet home

Blue Jays right-hander Jose Berrios was slated to start Wednesday’s game but because it was postponed, he’ll now take the mound on Friday. That might actually work out in his favour.

Berrios has been the author of some weird splits this season:

— In 11 starts at home, he sports a 3.23 ERA with 70 strikeouts across 64 innings.

— In 11 starts on the road, Berrios has posted a whopping 7.50 ERA with just 37 strikeouts over 54 innings.

There are times a pitcher’s bloated ERA can be explained away as the result of one or two bad outings. That’s not the case for Berrios, though.

The veteran has allowed at least five earned runs in six of his road starts. That includes his only outing against the Guardians this season — a May 5 contest in which he allowed six runs on eight hits over 4.2 innings.

The pitchers set to follow Berrios and toe the rubber in Saturday and Sunday’s games have yet to be announced by the Blue Jays.

Meaningful debuts

Remember all that hullabaloo about whether Whit Merrifield would get a COVID-19 vaccine and be allowed to travel to Toronto?

Well, shortly after he was acquired at the trade deadline by the Blue Jays, the utility player indicated that he did in fact get vaccinated. This series will feature his first home game with his new club.

Merrifield is hitting .286 (6-for-21) while playing mostly in centrefield since his trade from the Kansas City Royals.

In 15 career games at Rogers Centre, he sports a .263/.364/.421 slash line with two homers and three doubles.

This series will also mark a homecoming of sorts for a pair of Guardians players: Quantrill, of Port Hope, Ont., and first baseman Josh Naylor, a native of Mississauga, Ont.

This is Naylor’s fourth year in the major leagues and third with the Guardians, but the 25-year-old has yet to take the field for a major-league game at Rogers Centre. Quantrill, meanwhile, made his lone MLB start at Rogers Centre in 2019 when he was a member of the San Diego Padres.

Adblock test (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Sports

Showcasing ‘super-elite’ shot, Bedard continues to amaze in early WJC performance – Sportsnet.ca

Published

 on


EDMONTON — Really, Canada’s first two games at the 2022 World Junior Championship could not have been more different. The only common threads were the end result and Connor Bedard.

Canada’s opener was a tense affair with a Latvian squad that refused to go away. Its second contest, a stomping of Slovakia, was over before the first period was in the books. Step 1 in each victory, though, was a shot from Bedard less than eight minutes into the night to open the scoring. On Tuesday, it was a patented drag-and-snap beauty. Wednesday night, he finished off a wonderful give-and-go with captain Mason McTavish, taking just half a beat when the puck came back to him to make sure it ended up in the net.

[brightcove videoID=6310753238112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Wherever Bedard goes, it’s the same story: Goals get scored and jaws hit the floor over the way this projected first-overall pick — who turned 17 less than a month ago — fires pucks.

“His shot is just super-elite,” says Brennan Othmann, who played on Bedard’s line to finish up the win over Slovakia. “We all talk about it all the time. I know a lot of guys with good shots, but that guy can really shoot the puck.”

Indeed, there’s no debating what this North Vancouver kid’s super power is. And while there’s obviously a gift-from-the-heavens element to any phenom’s game, there’s also the on-the-ground reality of what it takes to perfect it. Whether in his backyard or on the ice, Bedard has been flinging pucks ever since he could hold a stick.

“It’s something I enjoy,” he said just before the tournament. “If you ask any kid what he wants to work on it’s not skating, it’s shooting pucks.”

[brightcove videoID=6289091747001 playerID=2540680026001 height=360 width=640]

Born in 2005, Bedard is basically the same age as composite hockey sticks. His weapon is extra-whippy and he uses an elongated shaft that — whether he’s wearing Team Canada’s colours or that of his Western Hockey League club, the Regina Pats — allows him to swirl the puck around way out from his body before he decides whether to let it go from the outer reaches or, in a flash, suck it back in and let fly from whatever angle he feels gives him the best chance to befuddle the goalie.

The results are getting a little ridiculous. In 11 games for Canada over two World Under-18 Championships, Bedard has 13 goals. This is now his second attempt at the 2022 World Junior Championship after the original event was cancelled four days into the competition at Christmastime. Bedard, at basically 16-and-a-half years old, scored four goals in two games then. Tack two more on now and he’s got six in four outings. It’s by no means a perfect comparison, but just for quick-and-dirty reference, here’s how some other super-duper stars from this century fared at the first world junior tournament they played in: Connor McDavid, one goal in seven games; Auston Matthews, one goal in five games; Sidney Crosby, two goals in six games; Alex Ovechkin, six goals in six games.

[brightcove videoID=6286825336001 playerID=2540680026001 height=360 width=640]

So, if you wanted to get slightly silly about it, you could point out that Bedard is even outpacing Ovechkin, a player who has a realistic shot at finishing his career as the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer. Sure, comparisons to active legends are inherently exuberant, but just follow Bedard’s lead and have fun with it.

“It’s pretty crazy,” he says when asked about hearing his name mentioned with the likes of McDavid and Crosby. “I haven’t played a game in the NHL or even finished a full second year of junior, so it’s wild and whenever I hear that it’s definitely an honour.”

Anybody projecting Bedard to be in that class — and you don’t have to be the tin foil hat-type to do it — knows it takes more than one signature attribute to scale those heights. The more people see Bedard play, the more they realize there are layers to his game. When he’s not the triggerman, his vision and passing ability make him a more-than-capable set-up guy. What’s more, despite falling well short of six-feet, he’s in no way afraid to mix it up. Bedard is a stout 181 pounds, meaning he’s got a very different body type than the teenage featherweights the likes of Patrick Kane or Johnny Gaudreau would have been. During a pre-tournament game versus Sweden, Bedard got tangled up with forward Ake Stakkestad for an extended stretch in the Swedish crease. Near the end of the first period against Slovakia, the entire bench seemed to be jawing at him before a neutral-zone face-off. While understanding the best place for him is on the ice, not in the box, Bedard didn’t cower from anything, visibly giving it back to people verbally and standing his ground with anyone who poked or prodded him.

“When you’re that good of a player and that talked about, players are going to want to get under your skin,” says Canadian defenceman Donovan Sebrango. “He loves it and that’s what I love about him. He’s a special player. I don’t think you can really find a weakness to his game and he’s 17 years old.”

Perhaps most horrifying for opponents right now is the fact Bedard and McTavish have hit it off like a house on fire. With two games in the books, McTavish woke up Friday morning as the tournament scoring leader thanks to a 4-4-8 line, while Bedard has a pair of assists to go with his two goals. Canada, which had the day off Friday, will likely get its stiffest preliminary-round tests in its final two contests of this stage on Saturday versus Czechia and Monday against Finland. Guess which Canadian players will be the focus of pre-game meeting for those clubs.

“On the ice, no one can really stop them right now,” Sebrango said of McTavish and Bedard. “Their chemistry on and off the ice; they act like brothers. I don’t know if anybody can stop them.”

Adblock test (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending