It took Cubs pitcher Keegan Thompson one pitch to escape a tight jam when he entered Monday’s game vs. the Rays in relief of Kyle Hendricks.
“Sometimes you feel like relievers can be the momentum of the game when they come in,” Cubs manager David Ross said.
Indeed. Thompson squashed Tampa Bay’s momentum when he got Randy Arozarena to ground into an inning-ending 3-6-3 double play in the fifth, preserving a 2-2 tie.
It was a sign of things to come for the right-hander, who threw 3 2/3 shutout innings, in a 4-2 Cubs win.
Thompson got a taste of starting in the big leagues last summer during a second-half audition in 2021. It was an inconsistent stretch, and after being in the mix for a rotation spot this spring, he began the season in the bullpen.
And he’s been absolutely dominant.
Thompson has made three appearances, all multiple innings, and has yet to allow a run this season.
“One thing that I know from this guy, he's a hard worker,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said of Thompson. “He cares. He's willing to listen. He asks questions. That’s how you get better at this game day in, day out.
“His attitude is always great. He's a gamer and I love Keegan. I knew he was special last year. But what he’s shown this year so far is amazing.”
It’s no wonder Ross referred to Thompson as a "weapon" in his current role over the weekend. Look at his three appearances this season.
• April 9 vs. Brewers: 2 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K
• April 14 vs. Rockies: 3 1/3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K
• Monday vs. Rays: 3 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K
It’s not just that Thompson is getting results. He’s been efficient in his outings. He threw 39 pitches Monday, 27 for strikes.
“He comes in and pounds the zone,” Ross said after Monday’s win. “He works quick, runners get on, he's quick to the plate, he’s got multiple weapons.
“Throwing strikes is key. He can fall behind and still come back, as you saw in that last inning he threw in the eighth there.
"He's been a starter and has a feel for working through the lineup a couple of times and also dealing with traffic. There's a lot to like about him.”
Thompson’s tempo and pace have also stood out, both of which Ross said are indicators of confidence. Thompson said having experience from last season and the fact he’s pitching well help in that area.
“I think there's probably not a lot of second guessing in his mind because he feels like he can throw strikes with multiple pitches,” Ross said. “Whatever the catcher puts down, he's ready to go and is going to execute that pitch.”
Thompson’s performance has been a big boost for the Cubs, at a time when starter’s workloads are limited following the abbreviated spring training. He's been a bridge piece from the rotation to the late innings and closer, also saving the bullpen when he picks up multiple innings.
"He's just trusting his stuff, coming right at guys and putting guys away quickly," Hendricks said. "It was very similar to last year; we've seen it, it's in there. But man, he's dominant right now."