OAKLAND, Calif. — Matt Thornton spent eight seasons with the White Sox and set a franchise for appearances by a relief pitcher. He was part of the fabric there.
When general manager Rich Hahn called Thornton Friday night and told him he had been traded to the Red Sox, the conversation was a tough one.
“I had a good relationship with everyone over there. But at the same time, I had heard about the rumors to Boston,” Thornton said Saturday after joining the Red Sox during batting practice. “The opportunity to come over here was great for me.
“I’ve been smiling pretty much all day, knowing that I’m going to be on a first-place team in a pennant race.”
The Red Sox needed a lefthanded reliever once Andrew Miller was lost for the season with an injury. But the upcoming schedule also played a role in the team’s acquisition of Thornton, who had a 3.86 earned run average in 40 appearances for Chicago.
The Red Sox play 10 consecutive games against American League East foes after the All-Star break. Thornton has considerable experience against those teams and their lefthanded hitters.
“Staying in the league that I know, I’ve faced most lefties in the league 10, 12, 15 times,” Thornton said.
The Yankees arrive at Fenway Park on Friday for a three-game series. Their best player, Robinson Cano, is 1 for 12 against Thornton. Ichiro Suzuki is 5 of 19, and Travis Hafner 5 of 24.
Having Thornton around will allow Red Sox manager John Farrell to match up against those hitters in the sixth or seventh inning and save Craig Breslow for later in the game.
“It gives us that second lefty and it definitely helps. It was clear when Andrew went down, the desire to strike early. The sense of urgency became a little bit greater,” Farrell said.
Thornton said his transition would be eased by his familiarity with Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves, the former White Sox bullpen coach.
“Juan and I were together for a long time,” he said. “He’s a good friend of mine. Love the guy to death and looking forward to working with him again.”
Thornton was given No. 38, the first Red Sox player to get that number since Curt Schilling retired. He wore 37 in Chicago but Mike Carp has that number with the Sox.
Thornton is eager to call Fenway Park home.
“I love Fenway. It’s a beautiful ballpark with so much history. The fans are amazing,” he said.
The Red Sox were interested in Thornton before Miller was lost for the season with a torn ligament in his left foot. But that interest picked up in recent days.
The Sox had several scouts in Detroit on Thursday and saw Thornton throw a perfect inning against the Tigers. That led to the Sox sending Chicago Double A outfielder Brandon Jacobs. The White Sox have high hopes for Jacobs, a 22-year-old with many physical tools. Hahn believes he will become a corner outfielder in the majors.
But Jacobs was blocked by several outfielders in the Red Sox system — Jackie Bradley and Bryce Brentz in particular. The Red Sox would have had to place Jacobs on the 40-man roster after the season or risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft.
The Red Sox may not be finished adding to their relief depth.
“Additional changes that might take place remain to be seen,” Farrell said. “I know that [general manager Ben Cherington] is still finding way possible to improve this team,” Farrell said.
No halting Holt
Rookie third baseman Brock Holt has made a major impact on the Sox since getting called up July 6. He has hit .320 over his first eight games with seven RBIs, two sacrifices, and two sacrifice flies. He also has drawn three walks and struck out once.
“He’s a smart player. He understands the situations to which he’s asked to execute differently in,” Farrell said. “He gives himself a chance. He’s not a dead pull hitter. He stays inside the baseball well.”
The 25-year-old Holt drove in two runs in Friday night’s 4-2 victory against Oakland with a two-out single in the second inning.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to come up with guys on base,” Holt said. “My approach with two outs is kind of the same as it is with no outs. Look for a good pitch to hit. I was able to do that.”
Holt hit a modest .262 with Triple A Pawtucket and was on the disabled list with a strained rib cage muscle before the Red Sox called him up.
“I feel like I’ve been playing well. I came up not knowing what to expect,” Holt said. “But I’ve been in there and felt comfortable from Day 1. The guys welcomed me and it’s been a good run so far.”
Farrell has not announced the rotation out of the break. But he did say the Sox would use lefties Jon Lester and Felix Doubront against the Yankees with John Lackey in the middle. Ryan Dempster would start the fourth game, against Tampa Bay, with the fifth starter to be determined . . . Shane Victorino was back in the lineup after taking a fastball off the base of his right thumb Friday night. He had two of the Sox’ seven hits . . . Stephen Drew, out since June 29 with a strained right hamstring, went through a full workout before the game that including running the bases. Drew is eligible to be activated off the disabled list Sunday but that will wait until next weekend. “Like to get him some at-bats on a very, very brief [minor league rehabilitation assignment],” Farrell said. “He’s going to be rejoining us shortly after the All-Star break.” . . . Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes practiced for Monday’s Home Run Derby before the game and sent baseballs deep into the stands in left field. Several Red Sox players and coaches watched the show . . . Xander Bogaerts will hit third for the World Team in the Futures Game at Citi Field in New York Sunday. Righthander Anthony Ranaudo is scheduled to pitch an inning of relief for the United States team and infielder Garin Cecchini will play off the bench . . . Double A Portland beat Binghamton, 8-5, in 15 innings Friday. Infielder Ryan Dent pitched two scoreless innings to get the win. He allowed two hits, walked two, and struck out one. Dent, 24, is a former supplemental first-round pick who has hit .223 over seven seasons.