Freshman hurler brings depth, relief to bullpen

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Nathan Thornhill pitched five perfect innings Tuesday in the freshman’s first start as a Longhorn.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

In his first ever start, Nathan Thornhill was perfect. Well, for five innings at least.


And if the gem the freshman pitched against the Panthers is any indication — four strikeouts with no runner allowed on base on 61 pitches — then Texas may have found its new setup man.


“I’m certainly excited by him,” said head coach Augie Garrido.


The Longhorns boast a top starting rotation and a dominant closer in Corey Knebel, but their pitching in the middle innings has been suspect this year. And that’s exactly why Thornhill was chosen by Garrido and pitching coach Skip Johnson to start the last Tuesday game of the season.


“His start was because we needed a setup guy, and we wanted to see how it’d go,” Garrido said.


It went better than well. Thornhill took control of the game by getting ahead in the count (68 percent of his pitches went for strikes) and mixing speeds, throwing his fastball, curveball and changeup in varying sequences. The result: a lot of confused batters, and a lot of groundouts.


“He didn’t throw many balls,” said third baseman Erich Weiss. “And when you do that, they’re going to hit a lot of grounders.”


Tuesday night, Thornhill thanked his defensive players, whose play enabled him to tack zero after zero on the scoreboard.


“I was really happy with the way the defense played behind me,” Thornhill said. “Without some of the plays Erich made — that diving play to his left, and that slow roller down the line — then I’m
not perfect.”


While Garrido calls Thornhill “a durable guy,” the coaches thought it best not to allow him to pitch past the fifth inning, despite the perfect game. Smart, because Thornhill’s previous career-high for innings thrown in a game was two. With 61 pitches through five innings, he was on pace to throw 110 pitches in a full nine innings, and there was no need to overwork the arm of a young talent in an insignificant Tuesday game.


“I understood the situation,” he said. “It’s more important to pitch in the more important parts of
the season.”


Thornhill is slightly undersized for a pitcher — his listing on the official roster as 6’1” may be a few inches generous — but he’s a natural athlete. The starting quarterback at nearby Cedar Park High School, Thornhill won the district MVP and led his Timberwolves to the playoffs. And he knows his pigskin past has readied him for the pressures of pitching at Texas.


“Football made me a competitor,” Thornhill said. “Baseball is hard, you have to get your own motor going. But football is completely different, if you’re not ready mentally, you’re going to get hurt.”


Thornhill comes off as relaxed and even-keeled but still deals with stage fright.


“I was a little nervous before the game, I get nervous for everything,” he said. “I’d even get nervous in high school.”


Thornhill better start getting used to the bright lights because he may be pitching under them a lot more.