I mentioned in the Bullets this morning how good the Chicago Cubs rotation has been lately, even without Marcus Stroman and a little bit before they’d fully gotten Wade Miley back, too. It’s a credit to Kyle Hendricks putting together some good starts, Justin Steele looking as good as he’s looked as a starter in the big leagues, and Drew Smyly pitching relatively steadily as a back-end option.
And it’s also because Keegan Thompson has put together back-to-back solid starts out of necessity, going four and five innings in those starts, allowing just two runs across those nine innings. His most recent start, in particular, was eye-opening: 5.0 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 5 K, and just 65 pitches. He’s not even fully stretched out, and he was using everything in his arsenal, with great velo and movement, over the course of five innings. That’s a starting pitcher in today’s game!
Well, about that. With Stroman and Miley back in the rotation, there are now five “regular” starting pitchers available (those two, plus Hendricks, Smyly, and Steele). So what happens with Thompson, who was only making those starts to fill in the gaps, but who remains a possible long-term starting pitcher (or at least, you may not be ready to TOTALLY throw out that possibility)?
Well, according to Thompson’s pitching coach, the plan is to send him back to his multi-inning relief role now that the rest of the rotation is back:
Keegan Thompson is 3-0 with a 1.41 this season. But is he a starter or a reliever? Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy is in favor of continuing this current role because his "versatility is so valuable." https://t.co/AF6TuIPmH5 via @mullyhaugh pic.twitter.com/U7owRuue5K
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) May 19, 2022
“Keegan prefers to pitch when we need him the most,” Hottovy told the Mully & Haugh Show on Thursday morning. “I think that’s the biggest thing. His versatility is so valuable, not only for us but for him. But also it allows us to help manage the workload for him and pick the right spots to use him.
“His makeup, his background, everything about him, he’s such a competitor. He keeps things simple. It’s efficient. Again, just go out there and give us as much as you can. Pump the strike zone, be aggressive early, whether that’s as a starter, as a reliever, as a long guy, as a short-inning guy, I think he can do a lot of different things.
“The current version of him in the role he’s in right now does allow us to manage that workload early just knowing how valuable he is to the team and the organization.”
Without question, Thompson has looked fantastic in a multi-inning relief role – like, particularly good when he’s going full bore – and that’s an increasingly valued role in today’s game. Also, most of the data points we’ve gotten on Thompson the last couple years suggest this is going to be his best big league role.
I have to admit, though, especially as I look ahead to August and September after the Trade Deadline, when the Cubs may have some additional rotation openings, I kinda still want to see Thompson get some more starts this year. As in, real starts, when he’s actually stretched out. I don’t know that it’s likely he would emerge as a clear rotation guy for 2023, but don’t we all kinda want to know whether that’s possible? It could have a significant impact on what the Cubs do this offseason, and/or how they handle the trajectory of other upper-level pitching prospects.
For now, though, that isn’t going to happen, and I’m not upset about it. The pitching staff is about to shrink down to a maximum of 13 arms later this month, and I don’t see how you could go with a six-man rotation in that environment. So that option is out, and then you’re asking about who you would want to bounce from the rotation to accommodate Thompson – right now, it’s none of the front five for a variety of individual reasons. That means Thompson in the multi-inning relief role is still the right place for him at the moment.
But if there are injuries in the future or trades in July? Then maybe we talk about this subject again.