Tyler Thornburg was already off to a quality start after his first two outings, but the Brewers righthander took things to another level in Monday night’s start for Double-A Huntsville. The 23-year-old flirted with a perfect game, retiring the first 22 hitters he faced from Tennessee (Cubs) before yielding a one-out single in the eighth and promptly being removed.
Thornburg, who’s getting his first taste of Double-A this spring, had allowed just one earned run on seven hits over 11 innings in his first two starts. Against Tennessee, Thornburg set a career-high with 11 strikeouts and mixed in seven groundouts. For the season, Thornburg’s 24 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings put him second in the minor leagues.
He had struck out four in a row in the seventh and eighth before the Smokies’ Michael Burgess singled up the middle to end Thornburg’s run at perfection. Thornburg was taken out of the game having thrown 98 pitches and ended up being charged with an earned run for his trouble when the Huntsville bullpen subsequently allowed Burgess to score, though Thornburg did pick up his first Double-A victory.
Of course, Thornburg also didn’t issue any walks on Monday and has just three on the year. Thornburg’s unconventional delivery, which has been compared to Tim Lincecum’s, leads to doubts about his command and durability, though Thornburg held up over 137 innings at two Class A stops last year. Add in that he has a fastball that’s mostly in the low 90s as a starter but has shown he can find a little extra zip in shorter stints, and his potential as a reliever is tempting. But while it’s easy to want to project Thornburg as a reliever, the 2010 third-rounder has done everything he can so far to prove he should stay in a rotation.