OAKLAND -- Among the other clubs interested in reliever Matt Thornton, who joined the Red Sox here Saturday night, were the Oakland Athletics, who had good reports on the veteran left-handed setup man but could not come to agreement on the financial terms necessary to get a deal done, according to a major-league source.
Interestingly, the player the Sox gave up for Thornton, outfielder Brandon Jacobs, also showed up on Oakland’s radar a couple of years ago when they were negotiating the trade that sent Andrew Bailey to Boston. At the time, Jacobs was coming off a terrific season in Class A Greenville (.303, 17 HRs, 30 stolen bases) and the former football player (Auburn commitment) was viewed as a toolsy prospect with a high ceiling.
Jacobs did not fare as well last season in Class A Salem (.252, 13 HRs, 17 steals) and began this season repeating in Salem before being promoted to Portland on Thursday. And while the White Sox still were drawn by the tools, they see Jacobs less as a sure thing than as worth taking a flier on.
From Boston’s standpoint, the Sox succeeded in not surrendering any of their core of top prospects for the 36-year-old Thornton, who among other things upon his arrival here showed off an uncanny recall.
When someone mentioned to Thornton that he had allowed just one home run to a left-handed hitter in the AL East since 2010, he quickly said: “Hafner, hanging slider."
That would be Travis Hafner of the Yankees, who on May 2, 2012, while playing for Cleveland, hit a two-run home run off Thornton in the ninth inning of a game the White Sox were leading, 4-3.
If Thornton had given his answer in the form of a question, Alex Trebek would have given him the money.
He doesn’t watch much video, he said, but he has a great memory, an asset he puts to use when facing hitters. Thornton performed similar mental gymnastics when asked what he remembered about pitching in Boston.
“Let’s see, single to Crawford, ground ball to Pedroia, single to Gonzalez," he said. “That was last year. A save in 2010, coming right off the DL."
Aside from that impressive performance, Thornton expressed delight at joining a first-place team that is looking to him to fill some of the void left by Andrew Miller, who is out for the season with a torn ligament in his foot, abruptly ending what had been a career year. Manager John Farrell said he plans to use Thornton primarily in matchup situations.
“They’re a first-place team," Thornton said. “It’s all about winning. Unfortunately in Chicago, we weren’t playing real well all year long, so I’m really excited to come over here and help out."
Miller had tremendous success against right-handed hitters this season, holding them to a .155 (9 for 58) average. Thornton has not fared well against righties this season; they’re hitting .320 against him, though he has shown the traditional advantage lefties have against lefties (.173), while lefties were hitting Miller at a .281 clip.
Thornton’s career numbers are almost as good against righties (.238) as against lefties (.229).
“I’m just going to be myself," he said. “Sixth-, seventh-, eighth-inning guy, whatever they want from me."
Thornton has been reunited with Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves, his bullpen coach for five seasons in Chicago.
“Juan and I have known each other for a long time," he said. “He’s a good friend of mine. I love the guy to death. He’s going to see things immediately. Little things, he’ll nip in the bud."
Thornton said he got off to a slow start this season, and has pitched better in the last six weeks, though the overall numbers aren’t measurably better. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, however, said the Sox clocked Thornton at 97 miles an hour on the radar gun Thursday in Detroit.
“I am 36 going on 37," he said. “It’s about adjustments. That’s what this game is all about. I take care of myself in different ways, have made adjustments to my throwing program, and my velocity has jumped up."