Next steps for Keegan Thompson after being placed on the injured list
Keegan Thompson was strong in what turned out to be his final appearance of 2021.
Against the red-hot Cardinals in the home finale on Sunday afternoon, Thompson struck out 7 Cardinals in 3 innings of work. As good as that appearance was, though, the Cubs aren’t going to press any further with their young pitcher.
“I think that’s the biggest thing,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said last weekend prior to that start. “We’re not trying to push these guys past the limit of their physical ability right now too.”
After his outing, Thompson began feeling some tightness in his shoulder, and the Cubs decided not to risk further injury and allow him to end the year on a high note. The Cubs placed Thompson on the 10-day IL with right shoulder inflammation. In a corresponding move, the Cubs recalled Jason Adam from Triple-A.
Thompson showed flashes of what he could be for the Cubs moving forward. When he was first called up in May, it was to serve out of the bullpen. In his second appearance, he started the second game of a doubleheader against the Dodgers, going 3.2 innings of shutout baseball and allowing the Cubs to go on and win the game.
Then, Thompson pitched out of the bullpen, either pitching in short stints, or multi-inning relief outings as a bridge from the Cubs’ starter to the back end of the bullpen.
After the trade deadline, Thompson was sent back down to Iowa to be stretched out. He’s pitched out of the rotation since he came back in late August and logged 68 innings this year, including 53.1 big-league innings. That versatility to pitch in both roles is what the Cubs envision out of him moving forward.
After not pitching in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thompson saw a jump in his innings and the Cubs realize it’s unrealistic, regardless of how he performs to see him jump from 68 innings this year to 180 or somewhere resembling a full season’s workload for a starter. That goes for the other two young starters that the Cubs have relied on this season in Justin Steele and Adbert Alzolay.
“It’d be asking a lot of all those guys,” Hottovy said. “I think they can do it, but again, we’ll have to see how that kinda plays out and how things go in the offseason and who comes into spring training healthy.”
That’s why 2021 has been crucial for that trio. They’ve all made starts this season, they’ve all pitched out of the bullpen, and they’ve all pitched big innings for the Cubs throughout the year.
“I think on a good, winning team, you’re gonna rely on all three of those guys to make starts at some point,” Hottovy said. “Either way, going into next year with those three, we’ll have to be creative with how we want to do things. I think that all those guys are gonna be able to pitch big innings for us.”