Red Sox reliever Tyler Thornburg will have the chance to shine

Sep 15, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 15, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /
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With Boston trading for ace starter Chris Sale, many fans have forgotten about the other key acquisition of the offseason for hard-throwing Tyler Thornburg.

With the addition of ace pitcher Chris Sale dominating the offseason headlines combined with the departure of one of the most beloved Red Sox of all time in David Ortiz, it was easy for some fans to forget about some of the other moves that have occurred that may have been pushed to the fringe. One of those moves was the acquisition of reliever Tyler Thornburg via trade with the Brewers (Boston sent the up-and-down Travis Shaw Milwaukee’s way).

Sure, the starting staff is the story for Boston in 2017, however, there will be added pressure on the bullpen to perform in order for this team to truly succeed. That means that the plan is to certainly rely on Thornburg in some pretty big situations. It appears that the righty hurler will be the set-up man for closer Craig Kimbrel with Koji Uehara leaving in free agency.

John Farrell addressed the departure of Koji at Spring Training and added an interesting twist – Boston actually tried to initially keep Uehara, but he turned down the offer. We all know now that he eventually signed with the Cubs for a one year/six million dollar deal. According to Christopher Smith at MassLive.com, Farrell recently said:

"“That’s not to say we’re not excited about the guys here, but Koji’s a proven late-inning reliever. A very good closer. Was unflappable in the environment in which he pitched in — and that is here in Boston. And we made an offer to re-sign him. And yet, it wasn’t, as it turned out, to what he expected. And we ended up with the trade of (Tyler) Thornburg.”"

Farrell can defend the guys he has all he wants, but that sort of sounds like they had to settle for Thornburg. There’s no doubt that the team and fans will miss Koji. He had been a staple in the bullpen for four seasons, was a crucial contributor in their 2013 miracle season, and was a very likable character who wore his excitement on his sleeve. But let’s not forget that he will be 42 years old in April and has been plagued by injuries over the last two seasons, pitching significantly fewer innings than when he was at his peak for Boston.

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As much as fans may not fully realize at the moment, Thornburg is an upgrade. At 28 years old with a lot less mileage on his tires, he is coming off a season in which he threw the most innings of his career (67.0) with an ERA of 2.15. He is a hard-throwing reliever that fits in with the noticeable strategy to use a bullpen built on power and fastballs this season. The Boston Globe’s Nick Carfardo recently touched on the makeup of the Sox pen.

If Boston fans are concerned about Thornburg being able to “handle” Boston the way that Uehara was able to, those fears should be laid to rest. He recently told Cafardo,

"“I think no one wants to get traded when you don’t hate the situation you’re in. But if there was one team I’d love to be traded to, it would be Boston.” He wants to pitch for a contender and is not afraid of the limelight."

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Sure, Koji’s splitter was baffling at times for opposing hitters, but the time had come to move on. Boston cannot afford any more frustrating DL stints for a reliever with such an important role on the team. Thornburg gives them more security and will be effective in the set-up role. It will be a different style and a different feel with Uehara out of the mix, but if this team wins at the rate it is capable of, Sox fans are going to enjoy watching this season and Thornburg will be a big reason why.