Thornburg has the stuff to close. Working with a fastball that has averaged a career best 94.2 mph and the team's best curveball, the right-hander has held opponents to a .182 average with 12.45 strikeouts per nine innings, 14th among Major Leaguers who have logged at least 30 innings, and just off Aroldis Chapman's 12.86. During one stretch in May and June, Thornburg set a franchise record for relievers by retiring 26 consecutive batters.
"I'm sure nothing's set in stone, especially now," Thornburg said. "I'm sure the next 3-4 games it'll be a lot more telling than anything I could tell you now."
Thornburg said he was the closer at Charleston Southern University before switching to a starting role in his junior season, and also closed games in summer leagues. Beyond that, he's made an effort to adopt a closer's mentality during his set-up appearances this season, his third as a full-time reliever in the professional ranks.
"I've tried to take that situation on, even being in the seventh or eighth inning anyway, because they're high-leverage outs," Thornburg said. "I've faced 3-4-5 [in opposing lineups] plenty of times in the eighth inning. It's kind of like that was one of the biggest innings anyway, so it shouldn't be that much of a difference at all."
Counsell adopted a similar mindset about bullpen management minus two of his most reliable arms. Jeffress was 27-for-28 in save chances.
"How I'm looking at it is, the only difference in our bullpen from Opening Day is that [Corey] Knebel is here and 'JJ' [Jeffress] is not here," Counsell said.
Knebel opened the season on the disabled list with a strained oblique. He's active now, along with three others who were part of the Opening Day bullpen: Michael Blazek, Blaine Boyer, Thornburg and Carlos Torres. Middle relievers Jhan Marinez was added on May 12 and David Goforth was recalled Monday in the wake of the trades.
"It's really … a similar group," Counsell said. "We just kind of have to move everybody back. That's how it will happen. There will be some days where it's not in perfect order for you guys, and then you guys can ask me about that after the game. We'll do it the best we can.
"Again, it's 'get outs when you're called upon.' Those guys will do that."