In December of 2016, the Boston Red Sox acquired relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Travis Shaw and two additional prospects. If that name doesn’t grab your attention, you’re probably not alone. Thornburg has not thrown a single pitch in a Red Sox uniform.
Thornburg was shut down in February of 2017 with shoulder soreness. It was not until June of that year when he underwent surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome in his throwing shoulder. Former manager John Farrell maintained his belief that surgery was not necessary, resulting in the delayed operation. It also resulted in Boston’s promising new setup man missing the entire 2017 season, and the start of this one.
It is no secret that the Red Sox bullpen has struggled this season. And this should come as no surprise. Relief pitching was among the most pressing needs of this team in the offseason. Dave Dombrowski decided to spend his money on Boston’s other need, signing J.D. Martinez and filling the void of a power bat left vacant by David Ortiz. While that signing has paid off, and then some, it does not change the fact that the bullpen needs help.
And just recently, the bullpen woes worsened. Setup man Carson Smith, who has pitched as well as any of Boston’s relievers, found his way onto 10-day disabled list earlier this week. After throwing his glove in frustration during a 6-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics, Smith injured his shoulder and is expected to miss an extended period of time. Dubbed a subluxation by Red Sox officials, this injury puts even more pressure on the already depleted Boston bullpen. In 2006, closer Jonathan Papelbon suffered an injury similar in nature, and ended up missing the rest of the season.
Get to Know Tyler Thornburg
That’s where Tyler Thornburg comes into play. In his last active season, Thornburg went 8-5 in 67 appearances out of the Brewers’ bullpen. He ended the year with a career-best 2.15 ERA and 90 strikeouts. Joining Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale as the new arms in Beantown, Thornburg was expected to become a trustworthy setup man for Kimbrel.
Thornburg is making strides and Dombrowski said he is “very close to coming back” in a press conference on Tuesday. In his last outing with Triple-A Pawtucket on Wednesday, he allowed a home run, a walk, and 2 earned runs on only 19 pitches before exiting. These struggles delayed his next start until Friday, but he says he feels fine health-wise.
The services of this talented relief pitcher have been dearly missed by the Red Sox, and are now needed more than ever.