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Thornburg nears long-awaited Red Sox debut

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

NEW YORK -- Righty reliever Tyler Thornburg at last seems to be on the verge of making his debut for the Red Sox.

It has been a long and winding road filled with health woes for Thornburg since he was traded to Boston for Travis Shaw on Dec. 6, 2016.

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NEW YORK -- Righty reliever Tyler Thornburg at last seems to be on the verge of making his debut for the Red Sox.

It has been a long and winding road filled with health woes for Thornburg since he was traded to Boston for Travis Shaw on Dec. 6, 2016.

View Full Game Coverage

After throwing an eight-pitch scoreless inning for Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday night, Thornburg might make his next appearance for the Red Sox.

"I feel good. I feel ready," said Thornburg. "Then I feel like it's going to be one of those situations where I continue to build throughout the year, too. The more outings I get, getting into a regular routine and doing all that kinds of stuff, should really help, just continue to go out from here."

Thornburg's rehab assignment expires on July 4, so he could get another Minor League outing if need be.

Either way, he is at last close to pitching in the Major Leagues for the first time since 2016, when he was one of the best setup men in the game for the Red Sox.

"We'll talk about it probably after the game and we go from there. But he was good," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "I think, realistically, probably this week, he'll be with us."

Thornburg is coming back from surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder. Pitchers have had mixed success coming back from that procedure.

At least initially, Thornburg won't be a high-leverage reliever. The Red Sox have an ace closer in Craig Kimbrel, and quality righty setup men Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes. Brandon Workman has recently pitched well also, and Heath Hembree has been reliable if unspectacular the last couple of years.

"As you can see, Joe and Barnesy are throwing the ball well," Cora said. "We feel that Workman is still throwing the ball well. It will be good to have another guy that we can bring in to face righties and lefties. When his offspeed pitches are good, he can get lefties out too. That would be good for us."

It has been a long road back for Thornburg, which should make him savor the moment once he does step on the mound for Boston.

"I am completely ready to get into an actual routine and season," Thornburg said. "I miss it and it's tough when you spend so much time working towards something that's meant so much to you in your life and kind of getting that taken away from you is incredibly tough. It's hard as well being around these guys every day and knowing that there's not much I can do to help the team on a weekly basis or monthly basis or however long it's been. It's tough, so hopefully I can come in, make a huge contribution and make it all worth it."

Tantalizing end
The way the American League East is shaping up between the Red Sox and Yankees, it's hard not to look way ahead to the end of the season. The Red Sox go to Yankee Stadium for three games Sept. 18-20. And the Yankees head to Fenway for the final three games of the season on Sept. 28-30.

It would be a major surprise if the two teams aren't still neck and neck at that point.

"That will be cool," said Cora. "On Friday when I got here, the weather was good, and the teams are playing well, and I went out there for batting practice and there was a lot of noise going as far as the media, and the fans and I've never seen so many people on the field, honestly.

"You saw it, we didn't hit [outside] yesterday, we didn't hit today. It's because of the heat, but at the same time, I do feel that on weekends like this, the more we stay away from the field, the better it is. Not only mentally but physically. We know how much it takes to come here regardless of if we downplay it but those games are very intense.

"Learn a lot during this weekend. it's fun. I loved it as a player. I really enjoy it as a manager. Obviously competing against [Yankees manager Aaron] Boonie makes it fun but we can learn a lot during the weekend."

Rotating in DC
For the first time since April 2-3, the Red Sox will play in a National League park on Monday, when they visit the Nationals for a three-game series.

Without the DH, Cora will play J.D. Martinez in the outfield for two of the three games. Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. will also play two out of three. Mookie Betts should start the entire series.

Injured Draft picks
Two days ago, the Red Sox announce that their top selection from this year's Draft -- first baseman Triston Casas -- underwent surgery to repair a ligament in his right thumb. He won't play again this season.

The club announced on Sunday that outfielder Nick Decker, who was picked in the second round, was injured during a swing last week. Decker was evaluated by Dr. Matt Liebman at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and found to have a small fracture in his left wrist. The wrist will be in a cast for three to four weeks before he is reevaluated.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

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