Many have tried without much luck to point to a reason why Tyler Thornburg has quickly gone from a struggling Triple-A pitcher to a consistent major-league starting pitcher.
Somehow the same pitcher who was 0-9 with a 5.79 ERA in 15 Triple-A starts has flourished in his opportunity in the big leagues. Thornburg continued the trend Thursday by allowing two runs over six innings to pick up his first career win as a starting pitcher in Milwaukee’s 5-3 victory in St. Louis.
In five starts this season, Thornburg has allowed just five earned runs over 30 innings for a 1.50 ERA.
“Honestly, it’s great,” Thornburg said. “I think if we would have ended the season after 15 starts I would have been probably killing myself all offseason. It’s huge. I’m going to try and have the best possible last couple of starts and really give myself an opportunity going into next year.”
With so many other options pushing for a pair of open spots in Milwaukee’s rotation for next season, Thornburg would have been an afterthought if he wouldn’t have come up and pitched as well as he has.
Thornburg has at least thrown himself into the mix after his fifth quality start in as many tries. He’s gone six innings in all five starts and hasn’t allowed more than two in runs in any of them.
“He’s confident right now,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “He gets himself in trouble sometimes but he’s got such good stuff. He’s got three plus pitches. When they are located well, he’s going to get people out.
“We have so many things to think about and talk about. I know we are meeting next week so we will talk about all of that stuff.”
How does Thornburg explain his drastic turnaround?
“I honestly don’t know,” Thornburg said. “Once I got up here, some of the veteran guys like Kyle Lohse and Gonzo really, really helped me out as far as the way to go about things mentally and physically, as far as routines go. I really think that helped.”
Thornburg was tested in the sixth inning of Thursday’s game, as he began the frame with a 4-2 lead. With one out, Thornburg hit Jon Jay with a pitch and walked Matt Holliday. Roenicke was thinking the young right-hander was showing signs of being done for the night, but left him in to try and work out of the jam.
He did just that by getting Carlos Beltran to fly out and throwing a good curveball David Freese hit on the ground to third to end the inning.
“It was just one of those situations,” Thornburg said. “I think pretty much each game has it. It’s that one moment that is the make or break moment. If you give up a hit and it’s probably a tie game and a bad outing. It feels so great to get that one out.”
Roenicke felt it was important to see Thornburg be able to finish his outing by working out of trouble against a very good offensive team.
“They are going to get in trouble,” Roenicke said. “The guys who can’t handle it, they give up big numbers in innings. If we stay away from those big numbers, we’ll stay in games. When we are at full strength we will score some runs hopefully consistently and have the opportunity for these young guys to get wins.”
Unlike the first two games of the series, the Brewers were able to back a quality starting-pitching performance with a bit of offense. Taking advantage of a rare start, Sean Halton carried the load with an RBI single and a two-run home run.
With Juan Francisco and Yuniesky Betancourt mired in long slumps, Halton got a chance and again took advantage of it.
“It always feels good to get the ball,” Halton said. “It always feels good to get a win when you play. That’s what it’s all about.
“This time of year you just have to be confident in your preparation and do your work every day. Then you are ready when you get the ball.”
Though Halton is hitting .389 with a home run and seven RBI in his last 10 games, Roenicke plans to still work Francisco and Betancourt in at first base despite their struggles. The team is still wanting to get a look at Francisco over the next few weeks to evaluate where he stands going into next year.
“It’s not just myself and the staff, it’s the people upstairs,” Roenicke said. “We need to see something from Francisco. Was the 12, 13 home runs he hit, is this something he has a chance to be more consistent at? And if he does, you are talking about a first baseman with a chance to hit 30 homers.
“That’s what we need to find out for sure. Is this just a slump that he’s in or is this the kind of stuff we are going to see from him?”
Milwaukee’s win knocked St. Louis into a first-place tie with Pittsburgh for the lead in the National League Central, something the Brewers were pleased to do despite losing the series.
“I thought we played three good games against them, we didn’t finish two of them,” Roenicke said. “It’s important to beat these guys. They have been taking it to us pretty good. To see us get a win and to see us play well — we played a good game today all the way through.”