MILWAUKEE — The question has come up after each one of Tyler Thornburg’s six quality starts with the Milwaukee Brewers this season: How did this guy go 0-9 in Triple-A?
Thornburg worked six scoreless innings and allowed just two hits Wednesday in Milwaukee’s 7-0 victory over Chicago, lowering his ERA in six starts to 1.25.
He’s been asked frequently what the difference has been between the pitcher who had a 5.79 ERA in Triple-A and the one who has been a model of consistency in the big leagues. Nobody has been able to provide an explanation or a theory as to what’s changed until Wednesday.
“I think just mentally you realize how much something matters up here,” Thornburg said. “I think I was a little upset being in Triple-A. Honestly, I was kicking myself a little bit too much. I was doing things that I necessarily wouldn’t do normally, as far as trying to throw different pitches and trying to develop a couple of pitches. It just got me into trouble. Then up here I’ve stuck with my three good pitches and really trying to improve upon those.”
Thornburg has worked exactly six innings in all six of his starts, never allowing more than two earned runs. He was in control of the game from the get-go Wednesday, as the Cubs didn’t have a runner in scoring position until Thornburg had left the game.
A pair of two-out singles were the only hits allowed by Thornburg, while one of his two walks also came with two down. Thornburg didn’t have to work out of trouble once, unlike some of his previous five starts.
“I think all of them have been incredibly different as far as what I’ve thrown, results-wise,” Thornburg said. “A lot of times I’ve had to battle with runners in scoring position. This one I don’t think a runner got in scoring position. That’s one of the things I pride myself on is consistency. I try to keep it to three or less (runs) every time. Up until this first half season in Triple-A I’ve been able to do that.”
It’s hard to top what Thornburg has done when starting this season, but he has always hit the end of his night after six innings. At 91 pitches after six innings Wednesday, Thornburg might have been able to continue, but Brewers manager Ron Roenicke pulled the plug in a 7-0 game.
“It comes down to command so it’s something — he’s still young — you hope he grows into,” Roenicke said to how Thornburg can become more efficient. “You hope he falls into a rhythm and a delivery that he can repeat pitches. He’s a good athlete so I don’t see why he wouldn’t.”
Milwaukee’s offense was able to give Thornburg a big lead right off the bat. With the Brewers already up 1-0 on an Aramis Ramirez RBI single, first baseman Sean Halton muscled a two-out grand slam out to right to make it 5-0.
Instead of relaxing with a big lead, Thornburg went into shutdown mode and didn’t let the Cubs back into the game.
“I try to sit on the bench and let the game go in and out. Lohse was kind of telling me that always helps,” Thornburg said. “I always try to pitch like it is 0-0. If you pitch like you have too big of a lead you are just going to make mistakes.”
With questions as to if he’s a starting pitcher moving forward and concerns about his Triple-A numbers, Thornburg was a longshot to make next season’s rotation when he first came up to the Brewers.
He had to make a strong impression with the opportunity he was given, and he certainly has now thrown his name into the mix. It’s a miraculous turnaround for a guy who was searching for answers in the minor leagues just a few months ago.
“He’s confident,” Roenicke said. “He gets a little wild at times and then comes back and makes great pitches. He has three really good pitches: a really good fastball, a good curveball and a great change-up. He can mix in the two off-speed pitches, depending on which is going well that day, and when you can do that and you have a lot of life on your fastball, you’ll pitch like he did today.
“I don’t have any thoughts on where this guy projects out but with having plus pitches like he does and making so many good pitches when he needs to, if he can find that rhythm and that command that keeps getting better as he pitches, we have a really nice guy.”
Considering Thornburg’s season — and career — could have went in a lot of directions this season, he is pleased with how he’s been able to recover from a rough start. If Milwaukee was healthy for most of the season, Thornburg never would have been in the big leagues.
Instead he will now head into spring training with at least a chance to win a spot in the starting rotation next season.
“Once I got an opportunity I put so much pressure on myself to be able to take it and run with it,” Thornburg said. “I think every time out I’m trying to focus as much mentally as possible in order to put myself in a great position for next year.”