How Cubs view Steele, Thompson workloads down the stretch originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Keegan Thompson’s career-high for innings pitched in a season came back in 2018. Justin Steele set his new career-high earlier this month.
This, of course, isn’t news to the Cubs as we’ve entered the stretch run of Steele and Thompson’s first full big-league season.
But both pitchers’ workloads figure to be one of the most important things for the Cubs down the stretch heading into the offseason and 2023.
“We're definitely aware of that,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. "We try to communicate as much as we can with the players just about how they're feeling.
“We know we don't want to push these guys to a crazy limit. But we also know that every inning we get this year is just going to help with the volume for next year.”
That was the case before Steele left Friday’s start against the Brewers with low back tightness, and Thompson went on the injured list last weekend with the same issue. Neither injury is considered long-term.
There’s a big-picture calculus here for the Cubs as Steele and Thompson will be key members of the 2023 pitching staff. Both have ascended this season in the starting rotation after success in 2021 as relievers.
Including Friday's start, when he went 5 2/3 innings and allowed one run, Steele has a 2.25 ERA over his last 15 outings and 3.18 ERA in 24 starts.
Thompson has a 3.97 ERA in 25 appearances, 17 as a starter.
The goal is for Steele and Thompson to finish out the season as there's value in fully experiencing the grind of a 162-game season — both mentally and physically. But the Cubs also are mindful of their workloads.
Steele has thrown 119 innings this season, surpassing the 98 2/3 he threw in Single-A in 2017 for his most as a professional.
Thompson, who was dealing with fatigue before going on the IL, has thrown 104 1/3 innings. It’s his second-most professionally behind the 129 2/3 he threw between Single-A and Double-A in 2018.
“I think if we want to do what we want to do next year, these guys are gonna be a huge part of it,” Hottovy said. “We obviously want to protect them. We also want to make sure they understand what it's like pitching late in September in some really meaningful games.
“We're going to monitor that over the next couple of weeks and make a determination based off of everything that we're getting. I'd love for them to finish in some capacity."
The Cubs have a ton of different information and technology to monitor strength levels and for potential fatigue.
As we get into September, should they want to closely monitor the two starters' workloads, there are ways to do so without shutting them down.
The Cubs could give Steele and Thompson extra rest between starts. They could keep them in the rotation but have a piggyback system with another pitcher. Steele and Thompson could piggyback a starter out of the bullpen, like Adbert Alzolay did last September.
“There’s a lot of different things you can do,” Hottovy said. “We're keeping all that open-mindedness about what we want to do there.
"For right now, I think status quo, at least now for the next couple of weeks."
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