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Multi-inning relief role getting Cubs’ young relievers some early experience

Right-hander Keegan Thompson and left-hander Justin Steele are becoming weapons out of the bullpen for the Cubs.

Cubs starting pitcher Keegan Thompson delivers against the Dodgers on May 4.
Cubs starting pitcher Keegan Thompson delivers against the Dodgers on May 4.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs have started to find something in their bullpen over the last month, and after the success of the veteran relievers like Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin, and Ryan Tepera, it’s been the young arms that have come up and made the biggest impact.

Left-hander Justin Steele and right-handers Keegan Thompson and Tommy Nance have come up and not only had success, but have been thrown right into the fire. Manager David Ross hasn’t been afraid to pull the trigger and put one of his rookie relievers in a high-leverage situation.

Thompson is 2-1 with a 0.00 ERA in seven games (one start) this season. Before going on the IL, Steele was 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA before going on the IL earlier this week, and Nance has thrown 2 2/3 scoreless innings since being called up on May 16.

“I’ve seen a lot of baseball,” manager David Ross said. “I’ve caught a lot of pitchers, a lot of good pitchers, and there’s a lot of traits that the young guys have, whether it’s stuff, swing and miss, strike-throwing, poise handling the moment. This is the big leagues, and you have to perform when your number gets called, these guys have done that.”

Both Thompson and Steele have been starters throughout their time in the minors and because of that, Ross has been able to lean on them for multiple innings out of the bullpen. The flexibility is an added luxury with the league’s three-batter minimum rule.

“It’s more a product right now of us understanding the landscape of where pitching is right now,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “Having the shortened season last year and trying to figure out ways to control workload, you’re seeing more of these two- and three-inning relievers. And usually, what makes really good two- and three-inning relievers are my minor-league starters.

“I think it’s a great way to get guys a chance to get one time through the order to get their feet wet. It’s kind of like, you’re gonna come in, you’re gonna face a lineup one time and take us through, get two or three innings and then kind of see where you’re at.”

Duffy dealing with lower back tightness

Infielder Matt Duffy has been a big part of the Cubs bouncing back on offense over the last month, but he was out of the lineup for Sunday’s series finale against the Cardinals with lower back tightness. Duffy was removed during the seventh inning of Saturday’s game. He’s hitting .278/.377/.356 with a homer and 12 RBIs this season.

“Wanted to get him out of there and not push it,” Ross said. “It’s something he’s just kind of been dealing with a little bit.”