In just his 10th Major League game, Tyler Thornburg proved his mettle to his Milwaukee Brewers teammates.
After allowing a double and single in the sixth inning of a tie game against Philadelphia last Saturday, Thornburg wiggled his way out of trouble. The 24-year-old struck out Delmon Young swinging and induced back-to-back groundouts to get out of the inning unscathed.
That was the end of the night for Thornburg. The Brewers rewarded him with two runs in the bottom half of the frame to make him the pitcher of record. The lead stood up as Francisco Rodriguez ended five innings of solid work by the bullpen with a 1-2-3 ninth for his fourth save.
As Thornburg walked onto the field to congratulate his teammates, he pondered what was to come.
“This is going to be the weirdest first win ever,” he thought.
He was right.
Less than an hour after notching his first career Major League win with two scoreless innings of relief, Thornburg was optioned back to the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. He had been called up only four days ealier but Thornburg had a feeling the move was temporary. He was filling a spot left open by Brewers closer and former Sounds pitcher Jim Henderson, who returned from the disabled list Sunday.
The celebration was brief and rather tame for Thornburg. In the Brewers club house, he was doused with the customary cold water and baby powder shower. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz then took him to manager Ron Roenicke’s office, where he received the news. He spent the night in a hotel and flew out the next morning.
“I pretty much knew the situation and that was the case,” Thornburg said. “I was blessed to get the opportunity for those four days. Every time I went up last year I was a lot more nervous. Going up this year I was a lot calmer. It really definitely helped me, getting through the first couple outings without any [problems]. Hopefully I get the opportunity to go back up and do the same thing.”
After allowing just five hits in four scoreless innings in two games with the Brewers last week, Thornburg is optimistic he can turn his fortune around down in the minors. The right-hander from Houston dropped to 0-8 for the Sounds this year in Thursday's 4-2 loss to Omaha at Greer Stadium. It was his first quality start of the season, though, as he allowed four hits in seven innings. He struck out six.
Nashville continues an eight-game homestand on Friday when it hosts New Orleans for the opener of a four-game series. The Sounds (23-41) are battling Reno (24-43) for the position of worst team in the Pacific Coast League but they have improved lately, winning nine of 14.
Thornburg hopes to pull from his big league experience in order to pick up his first Triple-A win since last August.
“If anything you probably should have a little bit more confidence,” Thornburg said. “If you put up zeros up there you should be able to do it down here. Sometimes it is not that easy. It is harder to get the adrenaline pumping and get locked in down here compared to up there when you have 40,000 screaming up there. At the same time, you have different hitters down here. They’re a little bit more aggressive, a little more energetic down here than some of the guys up there.”
Thornburg, a third-round draft pick out of Charleston Southern in 2010, was tabbed by Baseball America as the Brewers’ No. 2 prospect entering this season.
Rated as having the best curveball by Baseball America, the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder leads the Sounds with 62 strikeouts and has allowed just 23 walks. At the same time, Thornburg has struggled with longevity. He has made 12 starts but only pitched 56 innings this year. In his last 10 games he has failed to make it through six innings.
“He can be dominant when he executes his pitches,” manager Mike Guerrero said. “He is learning the process. I know the numbers doesn’t show he has been successful. But in what we’re seeing he is being successful because he is learning how to do things so he can make adjustments in the big leagues.”
Adjusting back to the minors after experiencing success in Milwaukee could help him get back there sooner.
While all but three of his appearances in the minors the last three seasons have been starts, all but three of his 10 appearances with Milwaukee have been in relief. Thornburg says his goal is to win a starting spot with the Brewers.
The highly touted prospect just needs to improve his results in the minors in order to get an extended stay in the majors.
“You think about it a little bit because you know you’re one of their guys and you know you have to do well,” Thornburg said. “Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming but it hasn’t been. I just try to use it as motivation. I like to put that pressure on myself sometimes. If anything I can take the confidence I threw well up there and hopefully it will roll over to here and get things going.”