Tyler Thornburg has shed a few labels over the past few months.
He’s no longer a surgical patient, a resident of extended spring training or the unseen return from the Brewers in a trade that saw third baseman Travis Shaw jettisoned by the Red Sox.
Thornburg, the son of Mike and Dottye Thornburg, of St. George Island, feels like just a normal pitcher again, the right-handed reliever just a couple steps away from taking his place in the Boston bullpen.
“I could pitch right now,” Thornburg said. “It’s just a matter of making sure the recovery is good. That way, if it’s a certain situation where we’re playing a lot of extra-inning games right when I get activated, we don’t have an issue as far as how many times I’m pitching.”
Thornburg threw a bullpen session Friday and is spending the weekend here at Rogers Centre. He’s scheduled to work in back-to-back games for Pawtucket on Monday and Tuesday, another critical part of a process that has taken close to a year. Thornburg hasn’t thrown a pitch for the Red Sox since his December 2016 acquisition, undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in June.
“Trying to stay as even-keeled as possible,” Thornburg said. “I feel like I’ve done a relatively good job with that so far.
“I’d say that’s the biggest thing trying to handle it. Especially being around the guys and wanting to help, watching games whether it’s on TV or in the dugout – things like that.”
“Every pitch with conviction – it was just like a game or as close as it could be,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Thornburg’s work May 11. “What (pitching coach Dana LeVangie) called a very aggressive bullpen.”
Thornburg’s last pitch in a big league game came for Milwaukee in October 2016. He was shut down in his first spring training with Boston and never returned, denying the club some additional depth among its relievers. Thornburg has been particularly effective against left-handed hitters in his career, holding them to a .181/.278/.253 slash line in 414 plate appearances.
“I’ve been feeling good,” Thornburg said. “Even my so-called not great days are still way, way better than it was before.”
Thornburg has worked in five minor league games between the PawSox and Portland to date, covering 4 1/3 innings. He’s walked four, struck out six and allowed a pair of earned runs, but how Thornburg has felt after each appearance is more important than his final line. There have been no physical setbacks, and his fastball has settled back into its familiar range in the mid-90s.
“I’m glad we’ve taken the time and gone about things the right way,” Thornburg said. “That way, hopefully, I won’t have any issues ever again.”
“As of now it’s more important for him to bounce back, which is very important,” Cora said. “We’ll map out the next scenarios we want him to handle. As of now, velocity was good (Thursday).”
When and how to activate Thornburg is one of a series of roster decisions Boston will need to make before the end of the month. Dustin Pedroia (left knee) will join Thornburg with the PawSox early next week and Steven Wright (suspension) is eligible to return as of Monday.
“We’re going to sit down and see where we’re at,” Cora said. “Obviously, we have decisions to make. Everybody knows.”
Bill Koch is a writer for the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal.