Ty Goes to the PitcherMay 6, 2011
At 6-0, 188 pounds, Timber Rattlers pitcher Tyler Thornburg is anything but intimidating in appearance on the mound. A drink of water in size compared to a handful of the other pitchers on the current Wisconsin roster, Thornburg still packs a punch when he toes the rubber, understanding that size matters only when it comes to your heart and willingness to utilize the baseball gifts from within.
“First off, God given ability for my arm strength,” said Thornburg, when asked to detail where he generates his power on the mound. “And probably a little bit of genetics from my parents. But it’s something I’ve worked on, looking at mechanics, trying to figure out where my arm slot is as far as how fast I am throwing at that time using my rotator cuff, triceps and forearm all to work together to create the maximum velocity.”
His mother Dottye, a Junior Olympic swimmer back in the day, helped provide the athleticism. She was also a handful of family members tabbed by Tyler to keep him sharp, but it wasn’t crouching down in the backyard so the youngster could practice throwing strikes into a mitt.
“I would always get my grandma, my mom, my dad, whoever was around to throw extra BP to me, throw Wiffleballs…whatever I could do to get better in hitting because that was something I really enjoyed doing,” said Thornburg.
You see, this pitcher was a hitter first. Thornburg enjoyed swinging for the fences so much he pulled double duty in high school and then college, where he was a two-way standout at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina. Tyler hit and pitched his way into the spotlight, tabbed a Second Team All-Big South player in 2010. But at some point, there had to be that proverbial fork in the road.
“There was, early on in college when I played both and I was doing a little bit better hitting than pitching,” said Thornburg. “But when I started getting into my sophomore and junior years, started getting a lot of attention as far as pitching, my college coach kind of maneuvered me to pitch more, get my bullpens in rather than take some extra hacks in the cage, so I could get geared more toward a future in pitching.”
Even though the upside was brighter, it was a gut twisting tussle for Thornburg to retire the bat along with chasing down balls in the outfield. Not easy for a player with legit power (24 career home runs at Charleston Southern, fourth most in Buccaneers history) who became a YouTube sensation making full throttle, on the run circus catches.
“It was fun playing the outfield,” said Thornburg with a grin. “That was my freshman year, and I loved playing in the outfield, getting a chance to throw guys out trying to take extra bases…that was the most fun.
“As hard as it is to stop hitting, because hitting is a lot more fun than pitching because you get to play every day, but I know it’s what I needed to do. And I’m willing to give it all I’ve got to make that next step in pitching.”
There was never any wavering once Thornburg bought into the notion of plying his trade on the bump instead of the batter’s box.
“I was always on the computer looking at ways to improve arm strength, mechanics to improve my arm,” said Thornburg. “I think there’s been a little bit of a change once I got here (Appleton). I’ve been concentrating more on how to work on my command rather than velocity. I’ve got it up to where I think I can be successful and I’m pretty much maxed out for my size. But now I’m working on command and trying to throw to both sides of the plate and keep the ball down.”
Work began in earnest last season, when Thornburg kick started his professional career with the Brewers. Selected in the third round, Tyler had supporters on hand to wait out the moment.
“They were all at my house, family and friends, about 15 people sitting and watching it on the computer because I didn’t go in the first round, so it wasn’t on TV,” said Thornburg. “But it was definitely exciting. My parents were the most excited, apart from me. They were jumping up and down, and it was real fun.”
And how long does the fun last?
“You have your time for being excited, but then you’ve kind of got to move on in the next couple of days,” said Thornburg. “It’s time to begin to work harder than the next person.”
Aware that the spotlight would shadow a lofty draft pick, Thornburg made the most of his trip to the Brewers rookie team in Helena. Just as he was a student of the game back in college, Thornburg found out class was always in session in Montana.
“In Helena, all I tried to do was blow it by guys,” said Thornburg. “And then I learned going to instructs that if you throw it to both sides of the plate, you can throw it five miles per hour less. If you’re down in the zone, you’re going to get guys out without wasting a bunch of your energy trying to strike everyone out.
“You just have to take your game to the next level. You’ve been pitching against college hitters, and it helps that I get to go to face wood (bats), but you’ve got all of these much better hitters. It’s like facing the three and four guys in college one through nine. You’ve just got to try and prove that you were worth that pick and that you can make it in the bigs.”
Able to notch 98 mph when he dials it up for some serious heat, Thornburg’s ticket just might be his nasty curveball. It has been a decade in the making, but may be in need of a tune-up tweak.
“I developed that when I was about 12,” said Thornburg.” “It’s funny because I actually just changed the grip this year. Didn’t change the grip from when I was 12 to this spring actually. I wasn’t throwing it for enough strikes, because as you get into the higher levels hitters stop swinging at that bouncing curveball that I had success with in college and last year. So now I’ve tried to develop a grip to throw more strikes with it and still be able to do similar stuff.”
Thornburg dominated the Pioneer League, posting an ERA of 1.93 in nine games. He punched out 38 batters in 23 innings of work, and perhaps most noteworthy, Tyler never glanced back in the rearview mirror to his days as a position player.
“I enjoy being up there knowing that the entire game is based on how well you do,” said Thornburg.” If you do badly, your team is probably going to lose. If you do really well, there’s no chance that you’re going to lose.
“I love having that kind of dependency on me, but I kind of wish I could do a little bit of both…maybe hit a home run here and there to help out when the hitters aren’t doing too hot.
“Yeah, I love being up on that mound.”
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