The Cubs rotation has been through the ringer this season.
Wade Miley, Alec Mills, and Adbert Alzolay began the year on the injured list, Marcus Stroman was out during the middle weeks of May, and both Drew Smyly and Wade Miley are the shelf at the moment. But baseball stops for no injury. So we press on with fill-ins and openers like Mark Leiter Jr., Matt Swarmer, Scott Effross, and Daniel Norris.
And, of course, Keegan Thompson.
During Spring Training, Thompson was being considered for a spot in the rotation, but he ultimately began the year in the bullpen, instantly becoming one of the best multi-inning relievers in MLB. Stroman’s IL stint forced him into the rotation a couple times in mid-May, but as recently as May 20, the plan was to keep Thompson in the bullpen for the foreseeable future … And then he started against the White Sox about one week later.
Best laid plans, and whatnot.
So now, the plan is changing again. Thanks to the loaded schedule, piling injuries in the rotation, and (let’s be honest) the exciting opportunity it affords the Cubs (and us!), Keegan Thompson is moving into the rotation … full-time:
Thompson will be used in the rotation “for at least the foreseeable future,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told the Tribune before Wednesday’s 4-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Hottovy noted Thompson has handled any role the Cubs have put him in.
Well, that is awesome!
I am not 100% convinced that Thompson will be better suited as a starter than a reliever long-term, but he’s certainly had some good results in the rotation this year (1.93 ERA over three starts/14.0 IP), even if the peripherals aren’t quite as strong. And for what it’s worth, I am heartened to see that his fastball velocity has remained elevated during his three starts this season, but we’ll see if that holds when he knows he has many more starts coming up. Either way, the opportunity to find out if he can stick as a starter is not one the Cubs can pass up.
Just think about the value of *knowing* you have another young, effective, and controllable starting pitching option, like Thompson, to add to a stable that already includes Justin Steele, and potentially Adbert Alzolay and Caleb Killian (on top of guys like Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks) before you enter the offseason. That’s precisely what held the Cubs back during their last competitive run. Buying pitching is expensive and risky. And it rarely comes on the right side of 30. That’s not to say you never do it (Jon Lester was, uh … a pretty good one), but limiting your risk and exposure to free agent pitchers allows you to do so much more with the roster. But you can only do that if you develop your own.
And even if it doesn’t work out in the rotation, I don’t think there’s much risk to spoiling the momentum Thompson has generated out of the bullpen. And, indeed, you might even expect him to return to his relief role this season: “I’m not going to say he’s going to be in the rotation the rest of the year,” said pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, “and I can’t say he’s going to be in the ’pen all year. His versatility allows us to be creative with his workload.” I guess we’ll call that TBD.
But, again, finding out if he can work as a starter after he’s had some additional exposure to big league hitters and continued development … well, that could change a lot for Keegan Thompson and the Chicago Cubs.
Keegan Thompson will start tonight’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field (7:05 CT). The Cardinals have been right around league average against right-handed pitching this season, so this will be a pretty good test for Thompson.