Keegan Thompson starts audition in Cubs’ loss to Royals
Like lefty Justin Steele before him, Thompson is shifting from a bullpen role and is a candidate for a spot in the 2022 rotation.
Cubs manager David Ross wanted to see how starting pitcher Keegan Thompson competed and handled big situations.
All things considered, the 26-year-old righty showed some encouraging signs.
Making his first start after being stretched out at Triple-A Iowa, Thompson went four innings and allowed two runs in a 4-2 loss to the Royals on Saturday. Like lefty Justin Steele before him, Thompson is shifting from a bullpen role and is a candidate for a spot in the 2022 rotation with an opportunity to show his stuff over the final weeks of the season.
“I don’t think there’s really any pressure on, like, ‘This is the one shot you get to be evaluated,’ ” Ross said “I think these are moments to come up and prove yourself. They’ve proven that they can get outs in the big leagues, and they’ve proven they’re really good in certain roles, with coming out of the ’pen.
“I think now it’s just about establishing that you can do it over the course of five, six, seven innings, going through a lineup multiple times, working in and out of jams, how you navigate that and compete throughout a game.”
If the Cubs are going to be competitive next season, young arms such as Thompson, Steele and Adbert Alzolay will have to take another step.
In front of an announced crowd of 34,005, Thompson threw 73 pitches and needed to compete really hard to give the Cubs a chance early. He struggled during a 31-pitch first inning, allowing Whit Merrifield to score on a wild pitch, but limited the damage otherwise.
He also had a brief run-in with plate umpire Jerry Meals, who said something to Thompson after a borderline 2-2 pitch to Ryan O’Hearn was called a ball in an inning when the Royals fouled off seven two-strike, two-out pitches. Ross also spoke to Meals, but there were no ejections.
“I thought it was a good pitch,” Thompson said. “I was frustrated. I yelled. I don’t know if I yelled at him or not, but that was all it was. I was just frustrated”
The second inning also was a challenge for Thompson, who fell behind 2-0 on Nicky Lopez’s two-out single. But after that, he settled in and left with the Cubs still trailing 2-0 in the first start of his audition for 2022.
“Overall, I think it was OK,” Thompson said. “I’m not pleased with myself, but I battled out there. I did what I could and not what I wanted, but it’s not terrible.”
As Thompson gets stretched out further, he can learn more about starting in the majors. He began that process when he was optioned to Iowa on July 27, despite posting a 2.21 ERA.
In four subsequent starts at Iowa, Thompson threw 14‰ scoreless innings while holding opponents to a .104 average.
“Obviously, it wasn’t fun to hear that I was going back down to Iowa to get stretched out,” Thompson said. “But I think in the long run it’s going to be the best thing for me.”
What would be the best for Thompson and the Cubs is if he can make the most of the chance he has now. Of course, he’s not the only player with an opening.
“Opportunities are really good in this game,” Ross said. “There’s not a lot of times with big-market teams that are established, winning organizations that you get a chance to really make your mark. This is an opportunity for a lot of guys.”