In this Q&A, Thornton talks about mechanical adjustments he made working with Dan Warthen at Spring Training, throwing his sinker, the difference between the Mets organization and the Pirates and his current team in Las Vegas:
Brender: You have thrown two innings in two of your first three starts. Is there a reason they’re using you multiple innings often this early in the season?
Thornton: I don’t think it’s for any particular reason. Our starters are on a shorter pitch count at the beginning of the year. Syndergaard was on a short pitch count yesterday because it was his first day back. I guess that’s just how it’s fallen out. I’ve done everything in my career from closing to being long relief, so, for me, it’s give me the ball and I’ll be ready.
Brender: Your numbers in Spring Training were fantastic. Were you satisfied with everything you did?
Thornton: Yeah, I came in ready. I came in strong. All my offseason conditioning paid off. I made one adjustment with Dan (Warthen) early in Spring, which really perfected my pitching. I just went out there and attacked and really didn’t back down. Whoever was in there I was just going to go after him.
Brender: What was the adjustment he helped you make?
Thornton: I’m staying back a little longer on my back leg. Sometimes I was leaking forward but now I’m fully back and my alignment is on-line and everything is flowing to home plate. I don’t leak my front shoulder too early, just everything is going towards home.
Brender: You’re a sinker ball pitcher. Is that something you’re constantly working on, making sure the sinker is getting you ground balls?
Thornton: Exactly. I really don’t change my plan for anybody. I go after my strengths, not their weaknesses. I go out there and pound them in, throwing the sinker. Everyone knows in the PCL the ball can fly a little bit, so you never know what the hitter approach is compared to a different kind of league. So, I don’t change my game plan. I just go ahead and sink it and if they hit it in the air, so what. I’m just trying to get a ground ball and get a double play if I need to.
Brender: How disappointing was it to not make the big league team after having such a great Spring Training?
Thornton: That’s out of my control. Whatever they decide is what they decide. You know, I put the pressure on them. It was the first time I’ve thrown in front of the big league staff because I got traded after Spring Training last year. So, for me, it was just good to be out there and let them see what I have and put the pressure on them. If I didn’t make it, so what. I’m going to go to Vegas, do what I can and be there soon. Whenever I get the call.
Brender: You’re a big guy, 6’3” 220 lbs. When did you decide you want to be a sinker-ball pitcher?
Thornton: Early in college and early in pro ball everyone wants to see how hard you throw. For me, the harder I throw the more my ball flattens out. That’s when I realized going out there and throwing a sinker is the way to do it. I have a little funkiness to my arm action and I wanted to take that as an advantage and why not throw a sinker on top of it. I didn’t throw a true sinker until my second year in pro ball. The hitters know it’s in my scouting report. They know it’s coming but if it’s a well-executed pitch it’s going to beat them every time.
Brender: How tough is it mentally to go back to the PCL, a hitters league?
Thornton: I just have to go out there and not think about it. I don’t change my game. I’m just going to go out there and do what I do. Last year, there were sometimes, coming from the International League and a huge pitchers park where I played, coming here was a huge shock I the beginning. My mentality changed. This year, I had a good Spring and I’m just going to keep it rolling and keep doing my thing.
Brender: How has the Mets organization been for you?
Thornton: I like it. I love all the front office, the coaching staff. Like I said, it’s the first time I’ve been around the big league coaching staff and I loved every one of them. The atmosphere is great. The clubhouse, they treated me well and they brought me in as one of them. As a player coming to a new organization, you can’t ask for anything more. From what I’ve seen, the coordinators and everything, it’s a top class organization.
Brender: Is there a difference the way the Mets organization handles their pitchers compared to Pittsburgh?
Thornton: The only thing I saw was the pitching philosophy. Every organization is different. The Pirates, I think they led the major leagues in guys they hit last year. They’re all about pitching inside. For me, that’s what I do. That’s what they shoved down our throats. Here, it’s go out there and do your job. Just get the job done. I like that. Just be you. Don’t try to be someone that you’re not. I’ve really embraced that. Pitch to your strengths and not to someone else’s weaknesses.
Brender: How has the experience been working with Frank Viola?
Thornton: Frank’s great. I kind of took him on as a father figure. A guy who has been in the big leagues for so long. Really learned a lot from him. Just going out there and picking Franks brain about hitters and stuff he used to do, how he was so successful.
Brender: You’re a west coast guy. Have your family and friends been able to come watch you pitch in Vegas?
Thornton: Yeah, they came out to watch me a couple of times last year. It’s nice. But, of course, the goal is to be in New York and have them come visit you there.
Brender: As a guy who has been in the minors since 2010, does it ever enter into your mind, what if you don’t get to the major leagues?
Thornton: No, because I trust my abilities. I trust my mentality. I trust my preparation. If it wasn’t going to be out of Spring Training it’s going to be at some point. You have to go out there and set your goals high. You have to go out there and do what you do and don’t change anything. Just be yourself. You put in the work and if you do your part it’s all going to work out. I truly believe it.
Brender: When you see how many current reliever the Mets have in the big leagues and Vic Black and Bobby Parnell are coming back soon too, do you think about how tough it will be to have a spot?
Thornton: No, because you become close with them. They’re your friends. And yeah, it’s competition but you pull for them. I believe I’m going to get my shot. Who knows when. You want them to do well and you want the team to do well. It would be nice to see the Mets go back to the playoffs no matter where I am I would love to see it.
Brender: Have the new members of the 51s bullpen asked you for advice about the league?
Thornton: The first thing they ask is, ‘where do we go eat.’ Our bullpen is close. I played with Satterwhite and Bradford in the Fall League before I ever came here. So, I know a couple of them. I told them to pitch your game. Don’t change anything. The PCL has a reputation. If you look at your numbers all the time it’s not going to be good, so go out there and do your thing and stay away from all that stuff.