First Pitch: Thornhill returns for final season to get Texas back on track

Matt Warden

For Nathan Thornhill, the wins don’t tell the whole story.

The senior returns as one of the three weekend starters for the Longhorns this season after finishing his junior campaign with a deceptive 3-6 record in 13 starts. Despite his lack of wins, his stellar 2.21 ERA reveals just how dominant he was.

Texas averaged just over three runs per game last season, losing many close games in the process. This lack of run support didn’t change Thornhill’s mind set on the mound, though.

“It’s a part of the game [the lack of run support],” Thornhill said. “As a pitcher, I can’t do what those guys do. It’s hard for me to point fingers at somebody if I couldn’t do any better, and last year had a lot of ups and downs, but I’m not really worried about that.”

Despite the unimpressive number of wins, MLB scouts noticed Thornhill’s ability. After being drafted by the Houston Astros in the 24th round of the MLB Draft last year, Thornhill chose to return to school to finish what he started at Texas. Passing up the pros can weigh on a player’s performance, but Thornhill is focused on his last run as a Longhorn.

“Obviously, with the whole draft, you just don’t worry about it,” Thornhill said. “You understand how it goes on and what you can control. All you can control is your performance on the field and what you do to make sure you’re prepared to play. This year for us it’s all about, ‘Hey this is our last go around here at Texas, let’s get it back on track.’”

Command of the strike zone was the key to Thornhill’s success last season, allowing him to lead the team with the fewest walks (15) and most strikeouts (60). But just as the hitters have worked tirelessly to improve their swings, Thornhill has been working on new pitches to add to his repertoire.

“Actually, in my bullpen the other day, it’s the best it’s been,” Thornhill said. “Even the changeup and curveball, they are getting better as the rest come. Those are all field pitches, and the fastball is always going to be something you can spot and as a pitcher here you have to, or you don’t pitch.”

Preparation is everything, but, in baseball, superstition can be perceived to be just as important. Thornhill doesn’t fit that stereotype. 

“I don’t really have anything, except I do the same routine every day that I start,” Thornhill said. “It’s not really a superstition but everything is the same. That’s the closest thing to superstition that I have. It’s nothing that’s weird.”

With great tools and a laser focus, Thornhill could have easily gone to the next level, but he stayed. With him on the mound, the Longhorns’ chances of forming that dog pile in Omaha, Neb., will be much greater this season.

“We are thrilled to have [Thornhill] back for the 2014 season,” pitching coach Skip Johnson said. “Having him back is a huge boost to our pitching staff. We feel like this pitching staff will have a great mix of leadership, experience, talent and dedication.”