Since being called up for his first major league start, Tyler Thornburg has been shuffled all around the Milwaukee Brewers organization. He has been a front-line starter in the minor leagues, a fifth starter in the major leagues, and a bullpen option. After losing his spot in the rotation when Matt Garza was signed last offseason, he was again shuffled to the bullpen. Though he was injured for much of the season last year and he is not even guaranteed a roster spot heading into spring training, Thornburg has the arm that can be an X-factor for the next several seasons in the Brewers’ bullpen.
Last season Thornburg finished the year with a 4-1 record and a 4.25 ERA, but he pitched much better than these numbers. In April he was one of the best pitchers on the staff. He finished his 14 outings in the month with a 3-0 record, a 0.75 WHIP and a 0.61 ERA.
But then over-usage and injury set in. While his May was not terrible, his ERA and walk rates ballooned with one poor outing in June. Pitching in the midst of a blowout in Pittsburgh, Thornburg allowed five runs and four walks in just one inning of work. This sad outing rose his ERA from 2.83, all the way to a robust 4.25, where it would stay as injury ended his season.
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If he is healthy again in 2015, he has all of the tools to be the dominant pitcher he showed that he could be last April. With a full onslaught of pitchers in the bullpen and not having to account for pitching innings that Wei-Chung Wang could not, a well-rested Thornburg can be better than ever.
The Brewers already have a spectacular back-end of a bullpen in the works. With plus arms like Will Smith and Jeremy Jeffress primed to take over setup man roles and a wild-card in Chris Perez, Thornburg’s return can make the bullpen tougher than ever.
The competition for the final roster spots in the bullpen will be very intriguing, but Thornburg is bound to win a job. Instead of pouting about a demotion to the bullpen, he thrived. In 2015 he will show again why he was one of the top prospects in the entire organization and take the bullpen from a question mark to a strong point.