October 2, 2022

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Thompson 'in total command of everything'

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This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO — As Keegan Thompson worked quickly, battling both a talented Tampa Bay lineup and frigid conditions at Wrigley Field on Monday night, the phone of Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer started to buzz.

“I was getting texts from a number of people,” Hoyer said. “Both with the organization and outside the organization that have been with us, about how exceptional he looked. He was in total command of everything.”

Thompson has the makings of a big league starter with his five-pitch mix, strike-throwing ability and swing-and-miss stuff. But manager David Ross believes the young righty is currently a “weapon” for the team out of the bullpen. Gone are the days of the rarely used long reliever. Thompson is holding down an updated version of that role: a multi-inning leverage arm.

“He has a starter profile, for sure,” Ross said. “I think right now, it’s an extremely valuable piece that we don’t want to lose in the bullpen. I value that. Right now, do I think he can start in the Major Leagues? Sure. Do I think his value for our setup right now is where he’s at? Yes.”

The abbreviated Spring Training has created a situation where not every rotation arm is built up to a normal innings workload. Even the starters with higher pitch thresholds can run into a tough night. On Monday, veteran Kyle Hendricks was out after 4 1/3 innings. That is when Ross turned things over to Thompson as a bridge to the late-inning arms.

Thompson gave the Cubs 3 2/3 swift innings, locking things down until David Robertson came in to save a 4-2 win. Thompson struck out five, issued one walk and his only hit allowed was an infield single. His fastball was generating whiffs and his curveball, in particular, was impressive.

“That was the best I’ve seen him,” Hoyer said.

Thompson kept his foot on the gas on Friday night, spinning four shutout innings of relief against the Pirates. It was the right-hander’s fourth straight relief outing consisting of at least 2 2/3 innings with no runs surrendered. No Cubs pitcher since at least 1901 had more than three consecutive relief outings of that kind in the team’s history.

Thompson, who now has 13 2/3 shutout innings to start the year and leads the Cubs in fWAR (0.5), has been asked multiple times this year about his desire to return to the rotation. Each time, he has offered a variation of this response: “Whatever position I’m in, I’m just trying to do the best I can to help the team win.”

“Good answer,” said the manager. “You know what? I think it’s really special to be a big leaguer and I think everybody should appreciate that, especially the young guys.”

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