It was a short leash for Cubs rookie Keegan Thompson in a bad start Thursday night against the Pirates.
And it won't get any longer for him this month if his 54-pitch effort — and his manager's reaction to it — are any indication.
It took all of four batters for Thompson — one of three rookies auditioning for a place in the Cubs' starting rotation plans — to put the Cubs in a 3-0 hole against the last-place Pirates, with Colin Moran hitting his 18th pitch into the left-field bleachers for a three-run homer.
He put two more on before finishing a 36-pitch first inning and then walked the pitcher leading off the second on five pitches to earn a rare mound visit from the manager for what looked like a pointed conversation. Three batters later, after a Bryan Reynolds single, Ross headed back to the mound to make the change.
"It's very frustrating," Thompson said. "I've never really had issues throwing strikes."
In the worst of his four starts, Thompson threw barely half of his 54 pitches for strikes — six days after giving up five hits and two walks in just two-plus innings against the White Sox.
Thursday's outing came one night after rookie Justin Steele pitched five scoreless innings against the Twins, followed by four dominant relief innings from rookie Adbert Alzolay.
"I was trying anything I could think of," Thompson said when asked about adjustments he tried to make during the game. "I just couldn't find anything. One of those days. I'm in a rough patch right now."
As much as the Cubs are developing some of their young pitchers in the big leagues down the stretch, Ross did not try to make excuses for why Thompson was "off."
"Sometimes I don't know that there's something that has to be 'off.' " Ross said. "It's something that he's got to figure out.
"He's got to be better. That's the bottom line."