On Wednesday, Chicago Cubs Sun-Times beat writer Russell Dorsey tweeted that Cubs rookie Keegan Thompson will be starting on Saturday against the Kansas City Royals. This flew under the radar until this morning when it was confirmed by Chicago Cubs manager David Ross.
This is coming sooner than expected in my opinion, but due to Adbert Alzolay's injury and the release of Jake Arrieta, there is a hole in the rotation that needs to be filled.
Thompson in Iowa
After throwing 40.2 innings in 27 appearances, including one start, Keegan Thompson was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to work his pitch count up to a starter's length. This was the same plan the Cubs had with rookie Justin Steele, who has now made two starts with the Cubs.
Thompson has made four starts with the Iowa Cubs going 14.2 shutout innings with 16 strikes to five walks. Don't let the innings count throw you off because it is obviously low, and probably less than the Cubs were hoping for before bringing him back. Circumstances may have changed the situation and shortened his Iowa stint by one or two starts. Does that matter? Not at all. The only difference is that his pitch count is going to be heavily monitored since he only reached 61 pitches in his most recent start.
What to Expect on Saturday
This won't be Thompson's first major league start as he started game two of a doubleheader in April against the Dodgers. The moment will not be too big for him, especially since he has already pitched in many high leverage spots out of the Cubs bullpen. I know that Thompson will be able to level himself because of his confidence on the mound. He has a healthy amount of anger and IT (stuff, insert here what you want) that is tangible and instills confidence in me whenever he has the ball in his hand.
Thompson's pitch count will almost certainly not eclipse 75 pitches, but will come close depending on game flow. Cubs manager David Ross will look to get Thompson out as soon as he deems necessary.
In his first start against the Dodgers in April, he had a fastball % of 24.6%, which is well below his season average of 44.5%. He replaced those fastballs with a cutter that he threw 54.1% of the time compared to his season average of 26.7%. Keep an eye on his pitch selection, will it be similar to his start in April or the rest of his appearances in 2021?
The thing that I will be focused on the most is his fastball velocity. His fastball averaged 94.7 MPH in the MLB this year, but with Iowa his fastball reached 97 MPH while consistently sitting at 94-96 MPH according to the voice of the Iowa Cubs Alex Cohen. I am expecting Thompson's average fastball velocity to blow through his 94.7 season average.
There is less than two months left in this disaster of a season for the Cubs, so enjoy the little things like the rest of Keegan Thompson's and Justin Steele's starts. Take it all for what it is and don't expect too much from them as they get their footing as major league starting pitchers.