Cubs swingman Keegan Thompson rotation's ace in the hole

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Cubs swingman Keegan Thompson: rotation's ace in the hole originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Keegan Thompson showed a glimpse Tuesday night of what his future might look like for the Cubs, if not for team president Jed Hoyer’s “next great Cubs team.”

But that future ain’t now.

No matter how good he looked in an efficient, scoreless, five-inning start against the Pirates.

If nothing else, the swingman, who filled in twice for the COVID-19-related absence of Marcus Stroman, looked like a guy who was feeling the rhythm of a rotation guy during his 65-pitch outing Tuesday.

“No,” Thompson said.

No?

“I’m just going out there and doing what they’re asking me to do,” Thompson said. “I’ve had a couple spot starts to kind of fill a role, having a starter out. But I don’t really have a role, I don’t think.”

That kind of talk is music to the ears of manager David Ross, who has his young charges trained well in his expectations, if not handling media.

Ross praised Thompson’s performance filling in for Stroman (nine innings two runs total) but didn’t hesitate after Tuesday’s start to report that the team’s best pitcher in the early going is now headed back to the bullpen with Stroman’s return. Stroman starts Thursday for the first time since May 1.

“I anticipate Keegan grabbing the ball and doing what we ask him to do,” Ross said. “It’s what he’s done all year.

“There’s a real value in bringing that guy back every three or four days rather than five.”

That’s almost true if Thompson pitches three innings every three days and would otherwise be a five-inning starter every five days — same number of innings provided. Then it would theoretically provide equal value if the performance levels were comparable.

But anything short of that as a reliever — or exceeding that as a starter — provides more value by definition, the way he has pitched this season.

It’s not like Ross has a realistic option short of a six-man rotation — not with his projected five-man crew back intact with Stroman’s return.

And it’s hard to argue Thompson’s value to this pitching staff in either role, whether you measure it in bWAR, fWAR or fTHESTATS.

He’s provided 32 innings across nine appearances with a 1.41 ERA, just two homers allowed and the kind of efficiency that translates to seven innings per 100 pitches.

“A lot of the reasons we’ve been in games and been able to fluctuate guys [based on health] and ease guys into the mix has been in big part because Keegan’s had a lot of success,” Ross said.

“The bonus is that you’re gonna need depth in the pitching area, and he’s definitely starting depth for us. But he’s also really valuable in the role he’s been fulfilling for us.

“the more of those guys we have, the better off we’re going to be as an organization and a team.”

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