Tyler Thornburg

Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

Tyler Thornburg's role in Red Sox not acquiring a reliever in July now looking disastrous

John Tomase
September 14, 2018 - 10:40 pm

It turns out that Tyler Thornburg's best stretch of the season came at the worst possible time for the Red Sox.

It's easy to forget, because we're only talking a week, but from July 22-30, Thornburg strung together five scoreless outings, allowing just one baserunner in 4 1/3 innings and striking out five.

That modest run of success happened to coincide with the runup to the trade deadline, which in retrospect made Thornburg's timing terrible. It contributed to a false sense of confidence that allowed president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to address areas other than the bullpen at the deadline.

"We think realistically our bullpen is pretty good," Dombrowski said on July 31. "Some of the additions, we think the improvements can come from within. So when you start looking at players from outside the organizations that were available, we think we have comparable players internally in most cases. We have three guys in particular -- Tyler Thornburg is throwing the ball extremely well and keeps getting better and better. He is healthy and in a position where we think he's going to continue to get better, throwing in the mid-90s with a good curveball and changeup. Really it's hard to find a guy better than that at this point."


Based on his production over the last six weeks, Thornburg does not deserve a postseason roster spot. In Friday's 8-0 loss to the Mets, he was the worst pitcher in a night full of them.

Given the eighth inning of a 5-0 game -- certainly not an insurmountable deficit, given the Red Sox offense -- Thornburg imploded. He faced five batters and retired only two. He walked Brandon Nimmo and then allowed home runs to Austin Jackson and Amed Rosario. Just like that, 5-0 became 8-0 and the Red Sox were done.

Meanwhile, Thornburg's descent into irrelevance continued. He now owns a 5.63 ERA in 25 appearances. In 15 1/3 innings since that hot stretch right before the trade deadline, Thornburg has allowed five homers with a 5.87 ERA. He has allowed at least one baserunner in 13 of his last 16 outings.

His fastball, which consistently topped 95 mph in his breakout 2016 season with the Brewers, sat at 91-92 on Friday. The one fastball he threw that broke 93 mph also broke the sound barrier as it cleared the Monster off the bat of Rosario.

"Location, actually," manager Alex Cora told reporters when asked about Thornburg's struggles. "That was a changeup that was supposed to be down in the zone to Jackson and he left it up in the zone, and then Rosario put a good swing. It was more about location than anything else. Blake (Swihart) felt that the fastball had some life, actually, but location-wise, it wasn't his best night."

He's running out of time to make his case for the postseason roster. It makes one wonder how differently the trade deadline might've played out had Thornburg pitched then like he's pitching now.