Despite rough outing, Thornburg settling into role

May 4th, 2016

MILWAUKEE -- Tyler Thornburg took Round One on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, Angels center fielder Mike Trout won the rematch.

A day after Thornburg struck out Trout in the eighth inning to help seal a one-run Brewers victory, Trout's solo homer off Thornburg in a nearly identical spot sparked a four-run rally as the Brewers lost, 7-3, at Miller Park. Thornburg's rare letdown -- nine of his 10 appearances entering Wednesday had been scoreless -- cost the Brewers a three-game sweep.

"Obviously, the guy's a good hitter," Thornburg said. "You're not going to give anybody too much credit when you're in there. I thought I had a lot of different options I could have gone with, a lot of different choices, a lot of different ways I could have got him out. I just didn't make a pitch."

The pitch was a curveball, the same offering Trout had taken for a called strike three the night before. This time, Trout swung and sent it to right field, just far enough to clear the fence and tie the ballgame at 3. Thornburg went on to surrender a walk and two more hits, including pinch-hitter C.J. Cron's go-ahead double, before exiting after 31 pitches. Thornburg was charged with two more runs when Johnny Giavotella greeted Blaine Boyer with a single.

"The home run changes the inning," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.

Trout had just fouled off a fastball on Thornburg's first 0-2 offering. Counsell surmised that Thornburg intended to come back with a curveball in the dirt.

Trout, meanwhile, was sitting fastball.

"I told myself, 'You'll see it popup if it's a curveball,'" Trout said. "And I saw it pop up."

Was it right pitch selection, wrong location?

"Honestly, I don't know," Thornburg said. "Obviously, it wasn't a great pitch as far as the spot. I could have bounced it. I could have thrown it a little more outside. I felt like I had a lot of options there. I threw a fastball by him a couple times.

"I just made a bad pitch."

Less than 24 hours earlier, Thornburg made a better pitch. He inherited a 5-4 lead in the eighth on Tuesday, the latest evidence that Thornburg has settled into late-inning duties, and he froze Trout with a curveball that gave Thornburg 16 strikeouts in his first 10 1/3 innings of 2016.

"I like pitching in those kinds of situations," Thornburg said. "I enjoyed doing it in '14. Like I've said before, when I was a starter, I was trying to be the best starter possible. Now that I'm in the bullpen, your goal is to be that guy who people count on. The late innings are the role in the bullpen that you want."

The timing of Thornburg's ascension has been critical for the Brewers, who lost left-hander Will Smith (knee) and right-hander Corey Knebel (oblique) to injuries in Spring Training. Smith was supposed to share closer duties with Jeffress, and Knebel was in the set-up mix with Blazek and Thornburg.

"The further we've gone along now, his stuff has picked up. I'm talking about from the start of Spring Training to where we sit today," Counsell said on Thursday morning. "To me, he feels like he's coming into the game with really 'plus' stuff. Three 'plus' pitches right now. That's why he's a tough at-bat."