Looking Back At Brewers SP Debuts

#TEHFIERS
Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

After several hours on the “probable pitchers” list without an announcement, the Brewers finally made it official around 1:30 today: Tyler Thornburg will be starting tonight in place of the injured Shaun Marcum. The 23 year-old Thornburg is the Brewers’ 4th-best prospect, according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, and will be making the jump from AA Hunstville. (Thornburg was supposed to move up to AAA this weekend, but Marcum’s elbow woes led to him being needed in Milwaukee.)

It’s awesome that Thornburg is getting this opportunity (and that Brewers fans get to see him pitch on a bigger stage), but it’s hard to know what to expect on the mound. Thornburg certainly has the stuff to get major-league hitters out, but a lot of strange things — good or bad — can happen in the space of one outing, and the added pressure of major-league hitters, major-league ballparks, and the feelings and nerves that we really don’t like to admit are part of the game can all help create a scenario that is unpredictable to say the least. So, I thought we’d recap the most recent debuts by a Milwaukee starting pitcher. (Note: We’re talking about first major league starts here, not just major league debuts. Some of these guys, like Manny Parra and Mike Fiers, spent some time in the bullpen before making their first start.)

Mike Fiers: May 29, 2012 @ Dodgers
7 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 3 SO, 1 R, 0 HR, 66 Game Score

This one should be recent enough to remember. Fiers, called up to replace an injured Marco Estrada (who was pitching in place of an injured Chris Narveson), took ample advantage of Dodger Stadium in a 2-1 win.

Mark Rogers: September 24, 2010 vs. Marlins
3 IP, 0 H, 2 BB, 4 SO, 0 R, 0 HR, 61 Game Score

At the end of what had been a pretty good comeback season, Rogers was a September callup in 2010. He spent a couple weeks in the bullpen before getting a start (more accurately, a tandem arrangement with Jeremy Jeffress) in a meaningless game against the Marlins, with an eye on a possible spot in the 2011 rotation. Rogers was very impressive in that start, as well as his next (5 innings against the Reds on October 1), but that may have been the last thing to go right for him: In the winter, the Brewers traded for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke, and Rogers has spent the last year-and-a-half on and off the shelf with the injuries that have prevented him from sticking.

Manny Parra: July 28, 2007 @ Cardinals
6 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 3 SO, 3 R (1 ER), 0 HR, 53 Game Score Pressed into duty for a doubleheader in St. Louis, Parra, a well-regarded prospect who had thrown a perfect game in AAA, had a very solid outing that was later blown by the bullpen. He would spend the rest of the year in relief before sliding into the rotation the following year. I shouldn’t need to tell you the rest.

Yovani Gallardo: June 18, 2007 vs. Giants

6.1 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 4 SO, 3 R, 1 HR, 54 Game Score

Unlike most of the others on the list, this wasn’t an emergency start and was more a case of a blue-chip prospect finally getting his chance. Gallardo’s debut was met with a ton of excitement among Brewers fans, which would make sense, given that the club had recently decided that Jeff Suppan constituted enough of an upgrade in the rotation to justify a $42 million deal. In a surprisingly accurate glimpse of the future, Gallardo threw six-and-a-third quality innings and hit a double. Save for a rehab assignment in 2008, he never spent another day in the minors.

Carlos Villanueva: June 14, 2006 @ Reds
6 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 5 SO, 0 R, 0 HR, 67 Game Score

Unlike most of the others on the list, this wasn’t an emergency start and was more a case of a blue-chip prospect finally getting his chance. Gallardo’s debut was met with a ton of excitement among Brewers fans, which would make sense, given that the club had recently decided that Jeff Suppan constituted enough of an upgrade in the rotation to justify a $42 million deal. In a surprisingly accurate glimpse of the future, Gallardo threw six-and-a-third quality innings and hit a double. Save for a rehab assignment in 2008, he never spent another day in the minors.

Zach Jackson: June 7, 2006 vs. Padres
6.1 IP, 10 H, 1 BB, 2 SO, 4 R (2 ER), 0 HR, 42 Game Score

Part of the Lyle Overbay trade, Jackson was a soft-tossing college lefty who was a first-round pick at the height of the Moneyball craze. Jackson put together a very good start in his debut, but wasn’t able to fool major-league hitters for long: He allowed 48 hits in 38.1 innings over the rest of the year. Jackson was sent to Cleveland as part of the C.C. Sabathia deal and went on to briefly resurface in the majors in 2008 and 2009. He has spent the last two years with the Rangers’ AAA affiliate in Round Rock.

Conclusion:

This kind of thing hasn’t happened very often for the Brewers recently, but the track record for pitchers in their first major-league start is surprisingly good. Make of that what you will.  

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