Brewers Bullpen Notes: Thornburg, Henderson, and Wang | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

The Brewers bested the Phillies 9-4 on Wednesday night, running their winning steak to five games. For the second straight night, it was the Brewers’ power bats that helped overcome a mediocre starting pitching performance. The headliner for the series at this point is most definitely Ryan Braun, who followed up his three home run performance on Tuesday with some early struggles on Wednesday before opening the game up with a two run triple to deep center in the eighth. In many ways, though, it’s been the team’s bullpen that has been the true star of the early season run to 6-2 and the best record in the game.

Thornburg Wows

The young right hander continued his run of early season success with two shutout innings, striking out two and walking no one. Even more impressively, he accomplished that is a mere 19 pitches, 13 of which he threw for strikes. Thus far this season, he has allowed one run on four hits, striking out seven and walking no one in six innings.

Thornburg is throwing a bit harder now after being moved into relief, and his fastball/changeup mix with the occasional curveball thrown in is presenting quite a challenge for hitters. He did give up a long fly ball, and some of those are definitely going to turn into home runs against him. Time will tell just how much of an issue that is long term with hitters only getting one look at him per game.

The other question about Thornburg going forward is what role the Brewers will choose for him. If he continues to dominate like he has, it’s inevitable that the team will move him from more of a long relief role to some sort of late-inning job. Whether or not that will be in the ninth inning racking up saves is impossible to say, but the Brewers are going to be giving something up if they give up Thornburg’s ability to work multiple innings at a time in favor of a more rigid role.

Henderson Still A Question Mark

A day after his best appearance of the season so far, one that saw him hitting 97 on the Citizen’s Bank Park radar gun, Henderson was more shaky on Wednesday night. According to Brooks Baseball, his fastball averaged 96.52 MPH on Tuesday, a two MPH jump up from his season best to that point. On Wednesday, though, he was back down to an even 95.00 MPH on his fastball on average. These sorts of variations are perfectly normal for pitchers, but until he shows he’s really rebounded velocity-wise over a number of starts, it’s going to be hard to fully trust him.

When Will Wang Get Into A Game?

Wei-Chung Wang has yet to pitch in the big leagues, and if you happen to hang out much on Brewers’ Twitter, you may have noticed that people are getting a little restless to see him. For their part, the Brewers are looking for the right moment to get him in:

The only negative was that Roenicke had to choose Henderson over Rule 5 pick Wei-Chung Wang, who had yet to make his Major League debut after the Brewers’ first seven games. Roenicke has been waiting for a lopsided game to work Wang in.

“We were trying to decide which one to bring in,” Roenicke said. “I’m glad I brought Henderson in. We’ll get Wang in there, but games that we win, we need Henderson to be a part of that.”

That last part about wanting Henderson to be a part of games they win doesn’t make much sense on it’s face, but reading between the lines a bit, it probably means they’re waiting for a game they’re behind a significant amount late to bring Wang in. If he really struggles and the team is down five in the ninth inning, well, that’s not a big deal. If his major league debut is part of some epic bullpen collapse and costs them a game, all kinds of questions and second guessing will undoubtedly take place.

I’ve been saying for a while that I was doubtful that Wang was truly ready for the big leagues. My best guess was that the Brewers are mostly just trying to buy time until they can either trade for his unrestricted rights from the Pirates, or put him on the disabled list and send him out on a rehab assignment. So on Tuesday night, I asked Baseball Prospectus prospect guru Jason Parks if he thought Wang could be trusted to get outs with a lead at this point:

To be quite honest, that was a lot better prognosis than I was expecting. I have no doubt that Wang is an extremely talented young arm and that he possesses great upside. My skepticism comes in when we start talking about a guy who has never pitched above rookie ball actually being ready to get major league hitters out when it matters. Granted, not many guys with that pedigree have ever really even been given the chance to show one way or another if they could get big leaguers out, but there are some pretty good reasons for that. Most surely weren’t ready.

The question is whether or not Wang can do that. When a well connected person like Parks says he thinks he has a shot, that is definitely a point in his favor. Still, I have a hard time blaming the Brewers for wanting to ease him into pitching in the big leagues in the sort of situation where failure really doesn’t figure to hurt the team much. Wang should be given a shot prove himself and perhaps work his way into pitching when games matter, but there really shouldn’t be a rush to make that happen. There simply is no need to expose him or the team to that kind of downside unless it’s absolutely necessary.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. ZV says: April 10, 2014

    If the Brewers keep Wang all year, but severely limit his innings, what do you think that does to the workload/fatigue of the other relievers coming August and September?

    • Ryan Topp says: April 10, 2014

      No way they make it all year with him going severely limited innings. He’ll have to get “hurt” and do his 30 days of rehab at least a couple times. Even then, it’ll probably be tough if they’re contending. My guess is either he earns their trust or gets offered back to the Pirates. Can’t go on all year like this.

      • dbug says: April 11, 2014

        At some point he has to be either worth enough to the brewers that they are willing to trade something for him, or the chance of losing him is great enough that the pirates are willing to accept something for him. Any ideas on what a fair trade piece would be to obtain Wang’s full rights?

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