Tyler Thornburg has become a pretty important piece of this Red Sox bullpen puzzle

Rob Bradford
March 21, 2019 - 10:20 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Heading into his Thursday night scheduled appearance, Tyler Thornburg's Grapefruit League numbers are ugly.

The reliever has appeared in five games, allowed seven runs on 10 hits and walked three. He has let at least one runner cross home plate in all but one outing.

Considering Thornburg had been identified as one of the four late-inning options this offseason by Dave Dombrowski -- joining Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and Steven Wright -- this has been far from ideal. It's also why the microscope will be put on the righty at JetBlue Park.

There is a reason why Thornburg shouldn't be lumped in with a bunch of other Red Sox relief-pitching hopefuls. He has significant upside, and that's exactly what this group will be starving for. The good news for the Red Sox and their reliever is that they might have actually started going down the path that leads to what Dombrowski was looking for when dealing for Thornburg prior to the 2017 season.

"I feel good where I’m at right now," Thornburg told WEEI.com. "I made a good little mechanical change. I think anything I work on from here on out is going to be based on me doing that first."

This is how the pitcher and his team regained their optimism ...

In the midst of another rough spring training outing, coming on March 9 against the Mets in which Thornburg would ultimately give up three runs on four hits over an inning, Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie made a mound visit to point something out to the pitcher. He was striding too long, allowing hitters to get a better look at what was a firm 96 mph fastball.

The mechanical flaw, it was determined, was a byproduct of his time away after Thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. 

When he was hurt Thornburg's ability to lengthen his delivery was taken off the table due to the pain it would create in his shoulder. So when that pain went away post-surgery the pain-free stride became too prevalent, a reality he was living with while getting hit around throughout spring training.

"Before surgery, I really couldn’t go out and get velocity because this would get aggravated. So I stayed short. Now that I can do that without aggravating it I was striding a little too long, getting too open and hitters were seeing the ball better," he explained. "I just tried and reel it back in a little bit. They were seeing it a lot earlier.

"Last season I felt like I was throwing a lot of different outings just because how I could get the ball over the plate or get outs that day. Last year was more of a do what I can to do as good as I can kind of thing rather than pitch the way I should, dominate outings."

He's done it before, serving as one of the National League's most dominant set-up men in 2016 prior to being shipped to Boston, totaling a 2.15 ERA in 67 games while striking out 90 in his 67 innings.

And now Thornburg certainly believes he has reached the point in the process where such conversations can be had once again.

"My arm feels really good," he noted. "It’s bouncing back better than I expected it would at this point. Even over the first few outings, my velocity was higher than I had seen it in spring training ever. I kept thinking it was going to come around. I just needed to find the thing that made me successful before because it’s not always about velocity. I made a point to come in with my first because I felt like that was the biggest thing everyone would be looking for. Did he get his arm strength back? I wanted to make sure that was a priority. So instead of doing like most guys do which is get the mechanics down and slowly build velocity I kind of went the other way. I wanted to show velocity and then get the mechanics. It was a different way to work. Obviously, it’s not the way most guys do it or the way I would normally do it but it was the way I felt like I needed to this year."

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