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Back on track: Keegan Thompson plays stopper as Cubs’ halt skid

2 weeks agoTony Andracki

The Cubs needed a stopper and on Friday, that’s exactly what Keegan Thompson was.

The Cubs entered the day on a 10-game losing streak and hosted the Atlanta Braves, who came into play riding a 14-game winning streak.

Thompson responded with the best outing of his MLB career, leading his team to a 1-0 victory.

Thompson pitched into the 7th inning for the first time ever and induced 18 whiffs while striking out 9 Braves hitters.

David Ross believed it was a simple fix to get Thompson back to the pitcher he was for the first two months of the season. The young right-hander carried a 1.99 ERA into his start on June 7 in Baltimore but surrendered 12 runs (10 earned) in 3.2 innings over his next 2 starts.

The Cubs manager wanted to see Thompson rely on his fastball more, using his 4-seamer and his cutter to get ahead of hitters.

That’s exactly the formula Thompson utilized Friday afternoon, throwing his 4-seam fastball 52% of the time and his cutter 26% of the time.

“I saw him continue to look in and shake off to heater, heater, heater,” Ross said. “Guys were late on his fastball. It was explosive today. He pitched with some meaning today. ‘This is what I’m gonna do — I’m gonna come right after these guys.’ I thought the rhythm was really nice and made everything else tick up. … Great job by him. We needed that. That was a great performance.”

Thompson finished with 6 shutout innings for his first career quality start. He allowed only 2 hits and 2 walks (with the final free pass coming to lead off the 7th inning, prompting a pitching change).

Part of the key to success for Thompson today was his presence on the mound, getting back to attacking hitters in addition to living with his best stuff.

“That was a conscious effort for us today to throw more fastballs,” Thompson said. “I haven’t had a lot of damage done so far on the fastball this year. It seemed like I got away from the 4-seam fastball the last 2 outings. So that was big for us today to reestablish the fastball.

“I think I was trying to place balls the last time instead of just going after guys and staying in the zone and letting them put it in play.”

Ross appreciated Thompson’s ability to rise above adversity after back-to-back subpar starts. The Cubs manager also felt confident about the work in between starts for Thompson and the coaching staff (pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, bullpen coach Chris Young, assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos, game strategy coach Craig Driver). 

“We went back to what his core success has been,” Ross said. “That’s a credit to him but it’s also a credit to the coaches and having the conversations in between the starts. ‘What do we need to get back to? Where are you at when you’re at your best?’ Our pitching guys have done a really nice job — Tommy, CY, Moskos, Driver — those guys are doing really good job of, ‘OK, here’s where you’ve gotten away from that. Let’s identify that.’

“I think that’s where he was on a mission of when in doubt, throw his fastball. In the 1st inning, it was evident — he was gonna throw his heater today. Sometimes even when you get into the second time through the lineup or the 4th and 5th inning, [you feel like you] have to change. He never changed. I think that was why he had such a deep, long outing.

“Just kept attacking. When you’re in the box and the other opposing pitcher has good stuff and he’s on the attack, you feel defensive sometimes. I thought there were some really bad swings in there.”

Mychal Givens relieved Thompson in the 7th inning and worked around the leadoff walk to throw up a scoreless frame. Chris Martin and David Robertson followed suit, with the latter picking up his 8th save of the season.

The Cubs scored the only run of the game in the bottom of the 8th inning when Christopher Morel lifted a sacrifice fly to center field to drive home Jonathan Villar.

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