Tyler Thornburg has had quite a year. The 23-year-old prospect from Houston, Texas began the year with high expectations. He stormed out of the gate and raced out to an 8-1 record before the Brewers called him up to fill in for an injured Shaun Marcum. Thornburg cruised through the first few innings of the start before running into some trouble against the heart of the Blue Jays order, but by that point he was officially on the radar with even casual Brewers fans. I sat down with Tyler last week before September call-ups to talk some baseball.
WW: Tell me about the day you got called up. What was that day like for you?
TT: (Laughs) It was probably one of the more interesting days of my life. I was driving to the All-Star Game in Knoxville, TN. I was about 15 minutes away I think…
WW: And something changed? (laughs)
TT: Yeah, things changed. (laughs) They called me and I had to leave Knoxville and drop off my car in Chattanooga, so I could leave my car there after stopping at a friends place, unloading all my stuff and throwing things around to figure out what I needed. Then, I got to the airport and got up there.
WW: What happened when you got there?
TT: They had a towncar take me straight to the hotel. I didn’t get to throw or anything the day before the game because I had to stay there till all the roster moves were made.
WW: So you’re on your way to the stadium and you see Miller Park … if you could sum it up in one word what would it be?
TT: I mean, honestly it was pretty surreal. But at the same time I was trying to keep it as normal as possible just to keep my emotional level under control. Yeah, it was a pretty nice feeling.
WW: What would you say the keys are to a successful start for you?
TT: I feel like, obviously, if you have all your pitches working that day and your location is on, it will most likely be a good day for you. I think that the keys are that, well, you are only going to have all your pitches and location and command, honestly, maybe half the time. Maybe three out of ten starts. But its what you do with those other starts that matters. You have to know what’s working for you and really try to lock in. When I can throw low and away and go in on hitters, throw off-speed for strikes, especially early in the count, that sets up the later innings as well. Being able to use your fastball more and then you can show them pitches they haven’t seen.
WW: Say you get ahead in the count. What is the pitch you can’t wait to throw to get this guy out?
TT: Honestly, it depends on the hitter and game situation. That’s what I really love about all three of my pitches. I think if I have a righty up, bases loaded, with two outs, say a 3-2 count…I’ve thrown all three pitches this year in that situation. I feel comfortable with all three pitches and I can throw them in any count to any hitter.
WW: That has to give you a lot of confidence to know you can really keep a guy guessing once you have them down in the count.
TT: Definitely. Especially if you flip a first pitch curveball or throw a changeup for a strike. I mean, not only is that a hard first pitch to hit, but it also gets into the hitters head a little bit. They have a harder time figuring out what’s coming next.
WW: You have been both a starter and a reliever in your career so far. What would you say the differences are between starting and relieving for you? Which do you prefer?
TT: I enjoy starting a lot more. I don’t think I could have said that without the experience in the bullpen this year. I used to really enjoy the bullpen, you know, being able to have a chance to throw every day. But I like the fact that you can go out there and give your team 200 innings a year instead of 70. I think I also like stress of the situation, throwing once every five days. You get to go out there and hopefully pitch six or seven innings and give the team a chance to win every time out rather than throw the one inning out of nine.
WW: Nothing is official yet, but everything I’ve read indicates that you will be included in the September call-ups. Say you do get called back up. What do you hope to accomplish in that last month of the season? What things did you feel like you didn’t have enough time to work on the first time up?
TT: I want to actually get in a routine and show that I can start at that level. There’s not many people that put up really good numbers in the minors and then just completely lose everything they had once they get to the big leagues. It really was a tough situation up there. My first start was on ten days rest, and I had that travel day in there that I didn’t throw. My second start, I increased my pitch count from 54 pitches from my last start here. After that, I threw in the bullpen and I was on short rest. There really was no routine, and I really never threw on scheduled rest. So, you know, I’m interested to get up there and get in a routine and show what I can do every five days.
WW: You started this year in Double-A, jumped up to the majors, and now you’ve been here in Nashville for a couple weeks. You have gotten a chance to see a lot of the other prospects in the system play. Is there a guy that you saw that made you say “man, that guy is going to be successful at the next level”?
TT: There’s a couple of guys. In Double-A there was Scooter and Hunter. Unfortunately, I left right before Hunter went on a tear. I mean he only had seven home runs at the break and all of a sudden he’s hit like 18 or 19, I think. When he is on, he is impressive. You know, I got to play with Scooter for a half year last year, and the kid just hits. He’s a tough out every time he comes up. And here, of course, when Wily’s on he’s untouchable. He just makes hitters look terrible. They will be sitting 98, and he will bounce a 46-foot slider, and they are going to swing like its 99 at their chest. And the person that probably impressed me most this year from the first start I saw him till now is Burgos. It’s unbelievable what he does game in and game out. He really reminds me of a Michael Fiers type guy. His location is just down and away, down and away. He’ll hit his spot 9 out of 10 times. You don’t find too many people that from the dugout you root really hard for. I mean you want your teammates to do well, but there are those guys, Hunter is another one, that they are just such a great guy, you root for them super hard.
WW: Thank you for the time, Tyler. I hope in the next couple days you get some good news, and we see you in a Brewers’ uniform soon.
TT: Thank you.