Aug. 6 MLB Preview — Toronto Blue Jays (46-69) at Tampa Bay Rays (65-49)

(Ryan Yarbrough photo courtesy Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY Sports)

When and Where: Tuesday, Aug. 6, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla., 7:10 p.m. EDT.

Bulk reliever is still a novelty position in baseball, one created last year when the Tampa Bay Rays began experimenting an opener. In some ways, then, it is not surprising that Ryan Yarbrough — the pitcher who coined the term — is one of the most effective bulk relievers in the majors heading into Tuesday night’s contest against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Jays rookie Thornton again bids to win back-to-back starts for first time

Blue Jays rookie Trent Thornton (4-7, 5.23 ERA) picked up his first win since the All-Star break after beating the Baltimore Orioles for the second time in four starts last time out.

Thornton yielded one run and five hits over six innings Thursday when Baltimore pulled away for an 11-2 victory. This will be the rookie’s fourth straight road start, and he has recorded quality outings on back-to-back occasions just once outside Toronto — on June 16 and 21 at Houston and Boston, respectively.

“He pitched today,” manager Charlie Montoyo told the club’s official website, putting emphasis on pitched. “He wasn’t trying to strike out people. He had command of all his pitches today.”

“When I was with the Astros that [cutter] was part of my bread and butter, and I think a little bit this year I’ve kind of gotten away from it,” Thornton added. “It worked for a reason, and if I can get back to what got me here and what’s worked for me, that thought process, for me, seems a little easier.”

Thornton is making his third start against the Rays, going 0-1 with a 9.39 ERA in the first two after being tagged for eight runs and 15 hits in 7 2-3 innings. The righty did not factor in the decision of a 4-3, 11-inning loss at Tropicana Field on May 29 after yielding three runs and seven hits in 4 2-3 innings.

Austin Meadows has been an absolute terror to Thornton, going 4 for 4 with a pair of homers while also drawing two walks.

Yarbrough continues to thrive as bulk reliever

Yarbrough (10-3, 4.01) is on schedule to pitch in this game, and Andrew Kittredge (1-0, 2.52) will be the opener since he throws harder than Yarbrough, who can then keep hitters off-balance with his array of off-speed pitches.

The left-hander has a personal seven-game winning streak and also has recorded five wins in his last six appearances as bulk reliever. Yarbrough had to grind out a victory in his last outing, pitching with a lead throughout his 4 1-3 innings as he allowed four runs and six hits — including a pair of solo homers — as the Rays beat the Red Sox 8-5 on Wednesday.

“It’s kind of not how I wanted to finish out the game,” Yarbrough told the Rays’ official website. “But if I can finish like that and we’re still winning ballgames, I feel like we’re putting ourselves in a pretty good position. Not one of my best, but at the same time, just really grinding.”

The southpaw is 8-1 with a 4.03 ERA in 13 overall relief appearances this season and has made Toronto miserable this year with three wins in as many outings. Yarbrough has limited the Blue Jays to one run and six hits in 11 innings in those games and tossed 5 1-3 innings of one-run relief in the most recent outing, a 3-1 road victory July 26.

That is a continuation of Yarbrough flourishing in the role against Toronto — he is 5-0 with a 0.86 ERA in six appearances spanning 21 innings. Yarbrough has held Blue Jays hitters to a .162 batting average and 12 hits.

Notable Trends

The Rays are:

  • 53-22 in their last 75 games when their opponent scores two or fewer runs in the previous game.
  • 6-1 in their last seven games vs. right-handed starters.
  • 21-9 in their last 30 games vs. the Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays are:

  • 9-23 in their last 32 games following a win.
  • 0-6 in Thortnon’s last six starts following a quality start in his previous appearance.
  • 1-5 in Thornton’s last six road starts vs. above-.500 teams.

*****5-Star Pick*****

OVER 8.5 runs (-110)

The number came in lower than expected at 8.5 runs, and that makes the over a clear pick. While Yarbrough has usually been effective, Tampa Bay’s offense is the reason the over gets the nod. Monday’s loss did end a seven-game run for the over with the Rays and a five-game run against AL East teams.

The over has also delivered in Thornton’s last six road starts and is 7-1 in his last eight overall. The over is also 6-2 in his last eight outings versus division rivals and a strong 9-1-1 in the rookie’s last 11 starts versus teams with a winning record.

****4-Star Pick****

Rays -1.5 runs (Even)

Even with Monday night’s 2-0 setback, the Rays are the clear lean giving their recent play and Yarbrough’s track record of success against the Blue Jays both this season and overall. Thornton has yet to show a consistent ability to string together quality starts, and the Rays have fared well in the two previous matchups against him.

Tampa Bay has also not lost back-to-back games in a series to Toronto since August 2017.

Rays -0.5 runs first 5 innings (-136)

***3-Star Pick***

Meadows to hit HR (+320)

Meadows had a three-game home run streak end with Monday’s loss as he went 0 for 4, but he is still hitting a healthy .390 (16 for 41) with four homers against Blue Jays pitching, which includes his multigame effort versus Thornton in Toronto on April 12.

The Rays right fielder went 7 for 13 with two homers in his previous three home games versus the Blue Jays, and with Thornton giving up four gopher balls over his last four starts, Meadows is worth a flyer as he looks to help Tampa Bay get back on track.

OVER 4.5 runs first 5 innings (-125)

This is a toss-up pick as the five-inning over/under has split the 10 games between the teams (4-4-2) after the under hit Monday night. It is 1-0-1 in Thornton’s two starts against Tampa Bay, with the over narrowly hitting in the April 12 game Yarbrough pitched.

Both of Thronton’s starts had five runs in the first five innings and was a push against Blake Snell in the second. Yarbrough helped deliver the under in his other two appearances versus Toronto, but with the over 8-3-1 in Tampa’s last 12 overall, the over gets a slight nod here.

Rays OVER 1.5 runs first 3 innings (+111)

Thornton’s best individual earned run average in any of the first three innings is a 5.06 mark in the second, and it spikes to 8.69 in the third when opponents usually begin their second go-round against the rookie. He has allowed two or more runs in the first three frames in four of his last seven road starts but the bigger hedge is Tampa Bay gets back to normal offensively — the Rays had scored three or more runs in the first three innings in five of their previous seven games before Monday.

This is a solid play for plus-money potential.

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