So long, long relief: Thornburg thriving late

(Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

(Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

Brewers right-hander Tyler Thornburg still wants to be a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues, but for now, he sure looks good as a reliever.

Pegged as the Brewers’ long man on Opening Day, the 25-year-old has evolved quickly into a bona fide set-up man. In Wednesday’s win over the Padres, Thornburg made his 11th consecutive scoreless appearance since allowing a run in his season debut, and will enter a series against the Cubs on Friday with 12 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings, a 0.73 ERA and a .143 opponents’ average.

During one stretch, Thornburg retired 21 consecutive batters over seven outings, the Brewers’ longest such streak since Derrick Turnbow set down 22 in a row during his run as a dominating closer in 2005. Thornburg’s streak was finally snapped when the reigning National League MVP, Andrew McCutchen, smacked a double last week in Pittsburgh.

“Who knows?” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “This guy could end up being a closer. I don’t know.”

Roenicke isn’t playing hard to get: He really does not know what the future holds for Thornburg. Neither does general manager Doug Melvin, who, like Roenicke, is keeping an open mind about Thornburg’s ultimate role, saying the Brewers will make their call based on organizational need. Ditto, they say, for left-hander Will Smith, who is off to a similarly sensational start in relief.

Thornburg is honest about his personal preference.

“I mean, I honestly feel like throwing 200 innings a year to help your team win baseball games is going to do a little bit more than throwing 80,” Thornburg said. “Yeah, ultimately, I’d like to be a starter, just because I could help the team win more with that many innings. But again, the late innings decide a ton of ballgames.”

So far this year, Thornburg’s velocity is up (93.9 mph average fastball, according to data from FanGraphs.com), his curveball is still sharp and his change-up is being featured more often.

He’s staying open-minded about his future.

“Any time you’re doing something well, you can see yourself doing something like that,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s anything like, ‘I’m good at this, I want to be a reliever.’ Heck, what was my ERA as a starter last year? It’s one of those things that the toughest thing is bouncing around and not getting used to one thing. I feel like as long as I can get used to one thing — if I can get used to being a reliever, I can do a really, really good job.”

For more on Thornburg’s thriving in relief, check Brewers.com later today for the full story. For now, what do you think?

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Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy

 

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