Heads high: Thornburg impresses in Brewers loss
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
ATLANTA--Although the Milwaukee Brewers suffered a tough 3-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night, they nonetheless left Turner Field feeling awfully good about what had just transpired.
Youngster Tyler Thornburg, making his final start of 2013, went out with a flourish by posting career highs with seven innings and eight strikeouts, keeping the Brewers in the game against a potent Braves lineup stacked with sluggers.
His performance came on the heels of a great start Monday by Marco Estrada, and the two have given Milwaukee’s front office something to think about as it ponders the back end of the rotation heading into 2014.
While Estrada was already something of a known commodity, Thornburg has been a mystery due to circumstances that left him ping-ponging between the bullpen and rotation in parts of each of the last two seasons.
He opened this season at Class AAA Nashville, where he went 0-9 with a 5.79 earned-run average in 15 starts, only to return to Milwaukee and go 2-1 with a 1.47 ERA in seven starts since being made a full-time starter in late July.
“You’ve got to feel good about it,” manager Ron Roenicke said about Thornburg’s night in relation to the loss.
“You never feel good when you don’t win a game, but he’s got to feel good about what he did this season. Bullpen first, then we put him back in there to start, and he did a good job. From his Triple-A start, that’s quite a finish.”
Overall, Thornburg finishes the season with a 3-1 record, 2.03 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 662/3 innings. He also allowed just one home run—including none as a starter—after being tagged for eight in just 22 innings with the Brewers last season.
It was a solid step forward for the 24-year-old, to be sure. Will it be enough for him to be considered for a regular spot in the rotation next season?
“Honestly? If they want me to be a starter, then I’m going to be a starter,” Thornburg said.
“Obviously they have different opinions of certain guys. Whether it’s Wily (Peralta) in September—he pitched well (last season) and got a spot—it’s all on them, really. I did my part to prove myself and if the ball is in my court, then yeah. But unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.”
Milwaukee grabbed the lead early for the second consecutive night, going ahead, 1-0, after Norichika Aoki doubled to right field and Jonathan Lucroy singled to left with two outs to bring him in.
Thornburg, pitching in front of about 50 friends and family—he attended Riverwood High School about 30 minutes from Turner Field—faced the minimum over the first 32/3 innings. He was helped by double plays in the second and third, before a Freddie Freeman single and Evan Gattis double tied the game at 1-1.
The run was the Braves’ first in the series, snapping a 12-inning scoreless streak.
Gattis ultimately was tagged out in a rundown between second and third after Freeman scored to end the fourth. On the next pitch thrown by Freddy Garcia to open the fifth, Jeff Bianchi homered to left to put the Brewers right back in front.
It was Bianchi’s first homer of the season and just the fourth of his career.
“It surprises me when he does that,” said Roenicke. “He usually doesn’t come out swinging at the first pitch like that. He did that last year a couple of times, and this year we haven’t seen that.”
Thornburg walked Brian McCann to start the Braves’ fifth but then struck out Simmons, Dan Uggla and Elliot Johnson to finish it.
He whiffed Garcia to run his streak to four before Jason Heyward, Upton and Freeman all singled to tie it back up at 2-2. The Brewers eventually tagged Upton out in a rundown, and Thornburg got Gattis on a comebacker to limit the damage.
Thornburg had gone exactly six innings in each of his six starts before Tuesday. He made it through seven by retiring the Braves in order, capping his 96-pitch outing with his eighth strikeout. He allowed seven hits and a walk.
“He’s throwing pretty decent now, but he got beat on about three missed spots in big situations,” said Lucroy. “Can’t do that.
“He’s not going to be perfect, but the locations that were missed were pretty significant. So we’ve got to be better at that. But overall he did very well, I think, considering his season in Triple-A and coming in the second half here and getting right into the rotation.”
Four of those starts came against playoff teams, a fact Thornburg pointed out.
“I know there’s a lot of people out there that don’t think I belong or don’t think I belong in the starting rotation,” he said. “I did pitch against four playoff teams—Texas, these guys, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. It wasn’t exactly bad teams that I was facing.
“I’m really excited about that, and it obviously gives me a lot of confidence going into the off-season.”
The Brewers managed just one hit over the final two innings, while striking out in each of their last four at-bats against fireballers David Carpenter and Craig Kimbrel, the Braves’ top-shelf closer.
Brandon Kintzler pitched a 1-2-3 eighth for the Brewers while Donovan Hand came on for the ninth.
He gave up a leadoff single to Upton and after a long flyout by Freeman, Gattis reached on a grounder up the middle that Scooter Gennett was unable to handle.
After McCann popped out to third, Simmons lined a shot into the gap in right-center to score Upton with the winning run. It was the Braves’ 24th walk-off victory of the season, ranking them second in the National League behind Arizona (31).