MILWAUKEE — Tyler Thornburg hadn’t pitched in ten days and was on his way to play in the Southern League All-Star game before getting the call up to start for the Brewers on Tuesday against Toronto.
So he turned his car around after a five-hour drive to Knoxville, made it to an airport, and made it to Milwaukee in a whirlwind, all the while anticipating his first-ever major league start. As one of the Brewers’ best overall prospects, there was plenty of anticipation surrounding Tuesday night’s pitcher. After all, through 13 starts at the Double-A level, Thornburg was by far the organization’s best pitching prospect with an 8-1 record and 3.00 ERA.
And through five innings on Tuesday night, that anticipation seemed to be leading to quite a debut for Thornburg, who had skipped Triple-A altogether to make the call-up. He had allowed a two-run home run from Toronto’s Brett Lawrie in the third inning, but Thornburg hadn’t made any other obvious mistakes.
The nerves were there for Thornburg, he admitted after the game, but it was fatigue that got to him in the sixth inning with the Blue Jays’ powerful order coming around for a third time.
“It looked like he was running out of gas,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “His velocity wasn’t as good, and we were hoping he could get through the sixth inning. But we didn’t have anybody else who could stop them either.”
Thornburg’s fastball, which had reached the mid-90’s through most of the game’s first few innings began to dwindle to the low-90’s and high-80’s. And with a fastball left up for Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus, he blasted it into the right field bleachers.
And with Jose Bautista up next, Thornburg hung another fastball, and Toronto’s second straight batter homered, this time to deep center field.
Finally, with Thornburg reeling, he tried to compose himself for Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. He delivered two good pitches before leaving another one up, as Encarnacion blasted Toronto’s third consecutive round-tripper.
“I hadn’t started in 10 days, so I was a little bit tired getting toward that 6th inning,” Thornburg said. “Still, no reason I should leave some balls up like that, but that’ll happen with good hitters.”
But in his debut, Thornburg had five good innings to build on, five innings in which Roenicke was impressed with his young hurler.
“First five innings, I liked the way Tyler threw the ball,” Roenicke said. “Explosive fastball, nice breaking ball, good changeup. He had a really nice fastball, but like I said, I think he ran out of gas.”
NOTES: Closer John Axford had a whirlwind day, as his son Jameson Axford was born this afternoon, shortly after 2:30 p.m., but his night made the day awfully bittersweet. Axford blew his third save in four outings on Tuesday night, as the Brewers lost to the Blue Jays. As for whether Axford’s struggles will cost him his job, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said after the game, “Right now, he’s the guy. We haven’t really made a decision there where we would think about changing that.”