Cubs: Let’s not overlook Keegan Thompson’s start on Tuesday night

(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

After the Cubs‘ 7-0 win over the Pirates on Tuesday, the team’s fourth-straight victory, all the talk was about the pair of rookies who made their presence felt in their big league debuts in Christopher Morel and Brandon Hughes.

With good reason, too. Morel worked from an 0-2 count to run it full before absolutely unloading on an offering from Chase De Jong and depositing it beyond the left field bleachers for a mammoth home run in his first MLB at-bat. Meanwhile, Hughes came on after Daniel Norris left with an injury and notched a strikeout for each of the five outs he recorded out of the pen.

But before either of them came into the game, it was right-hander Keegan Thompson who dazzled, tossing five scoreless innings in his second start of the year. Thompson struck out five, did not walk a batter and allowed just four hits as the Cubs leapfrogged Pittsburgh in the NL Central standings.

Soon, the question becomes whether or not Thompson should remain in the starting rotation or shift back to his multi-inning relief role in the bullpen, where he’s been near-untouchable all season long. With Marcus Stroman and Alec Mills both nearing returns to action, it seems likely Thompson could be the odd man out when it comes to a spot in the rotation.

Regardless of what role he’s filling for David Ross, Thompson has set an expectation of dominance every time he toes the rubber. In 32 innings this season, he’s worked to a 1.41 ERA which, if he qualified, would land him among the best starters in baseball this year.

He’s found success not through strikeouts, but by keeping the ball in the yard and on the ground. Thompson carries a 53.1 percent ground ball rate on the season and has allowed hard contact just 23.2 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs. 

There’s no doubt. This kid is a future rotation piece. But it feels somewhat likely that, at least until the trade deadline, when the Cubs could make some moves that would create openings in the starting staff, Thompson will fill that long relief role. He’s excelled there and, given how we haven’t seen Chicago starters work deep into games regularly, it’s a critical role.

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