51s’ pitcher adjusts to park

In terms of Triple-A ballparks, 51s right-hander Zack Thornton went from one extreme to the other in April when he was traded — with a player to be named later — from the Pirates to the Mets for first baseman Ike Davis.

After opening the season with Indianapolis — which plays its International League home games at spacious, pitcher-friendly Victory Field — Thornton soon found himself on the mound at Las Vegas’ hitter-friendly Cashman Field in the high-scoring Pacific Coast League.

He gave up a home run to the second batter he faced — El Paso’s Kyle Blanks — but hasn’t allowed one since, as he’s emerged as one of the few bright spots in the 51s’ bullpen this season.

“Indianapolis has quite a big pitcher’s park. In the beginning it was a little weird (here), but if you go out there and throw strike one and keep it in your hands, you’ll be successful here,” he said. “I just go out there and attack and keep the ball down.”

Thornton allowed a run on two hits in 1 2/3 innings Monday night in a 6-4 win over Reno at Cashman. He entered in the sixth inning with runners on second and third with one out and struck out Danny Dorn and Bobby Wilson to preserve the 51s’ 6-3 lead. In the seventh, he gave up a one-out triple to Tony Campana and an RBI groundout to Nick Ahmed before escaping further damage.

A Los Angeles native, the 26-year-old Thornton is 1-1 with a 3.68 ERA in 18 games for Las Vegas. He has allowed nine earned runs on 23 hits in 22 innings, with eight walks and 20 strikeouts.

“He’s not a power pitcher, but he’s got a lot of deception because he throws across his body,” 51s manager Wally Backman said. “He’s got a pretty good slider, and he’s really tough on right-handers.

“He’s a guy that we can go to late, a setup type of guy. He’s been pretty consistent.”

A 23rd-round draft pick of the Oakland Athletics in 2010 out of the University of Oregon, Thornton was traded to Pittsburgh after the 2012 season for reliever Chris Resop.

He pitched on three minor-league levels for the Pirates last year, going 7-3 with a 2.63 ERA, 90 strikeouts and only 12 walks.

The fifth-year pro has displayed pinpoint control throughout his career, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of almost five-to-one.

“I’ve always been a control pitcher. I didn’t really start striking out people until I got in pro ball, which is a little weird,” he said. “I’m a sinkerball guy trying to get ground balls and keep the ball out of the air, especially in this league.”

Thornton is a virtual sidearm pitcher.

“I throw a little unconventional, with a low three-quarters (arm slot) and hide the ball,” he said. “I’m not going to overpower you, but I’m going to throw strikes and make you put the ball in play and get yourself out instead of trying to blow it by you.”

After compiling a 2-0 mark with a 1.23 ERA this season in four games for Indianapolis, Thornton was told he’d been traded on April 18.

“It was kind of shocking being traded that early in the year,” he said. “Usually trades happen near the (trade) deadline or in the offseason, but it was a good thing for me and my career coming over here.

“It was kind of shocking but exciting at the same time.”

Nobody was more excited about the trade than Thornton’s mother, Robin, a New York City native who grew up a Mets fan.

“When I got traded, she was pretty pumped,” he said. “For her it’s like a dream come true. Hopefully I’ll be on TV, and she’ll be watching me pitch for the Mets.”

New York has called up six Las Vegas pitchers in the past three weeks, and Thornton could very well be next in line. He said he’ll be ready if and when the call comes for him to make his major league debut.

“Personally I feel ready,” he said. “If you throw strike one and get ahead and stay ahead, no matter where you’re pitching, you’ll be successful.”

It also can’t hurt that the Mets play their home games at Citi Field, one of the pre-eminent pitcher’s parks in baseball.

■ NOTES — Andrew Brown belted a two-run homer — his team-leading 13th in 35 games — in the first inning, and Daniel Muno added a two-run blast in the fifth for the 51s (35-23), who snapped a four-game losing streak. … Right-hander Rafael Montero, who was optioned to Las Vegas by the Mets on Sunday, is scheduled to start today against the Aces (34-24).

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.

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