MIAMI – Cubs manager David Ross expects right-hander KeeganThompson will be activated from the 15-day IL in the next few days.
“Just letting him recover from his [Friday rehab] outing,” Ross said, “and then some moving parts as far as other rotation spots and bullpen spots.”
The Cubs have a surplus of pitchers who can throw three to five innings, either in the rotation or out of the bullpen. Thompson, coming back from fatigue and a tight low back, will serve as a multi-inning reliever, at least at first.
“Things change daily, obviously,” Ross said. “We’ve seen that happen.”
For example, rookie Hayden Wesneski debuted two weeks ago as a reliever. But he made his first major-league start on Saturday and limited the Rockies to one run in seven innings. Now, Ross says he’s “pretty sure” Wesneski will make at least one more start.
“We see his potential as a starter,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said, pointing to the trade that sent side-armer Scott Effross to the Yankees for Wesneski. “That’s why we made that trade. We saw what he could do in the future, a starting rotation piece that can pitch deep into games. And he did that last outing, obviously. So, for me, the plan is, try to keep him on that as much as possible.”
At least for the next turn in the rotation – Hottovy said the team will reevaluate after his next start – Wesneski is one of six starting options, along with Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly, Wade Miley, Adrian Sampson and Javier Assad.
The Cubs could move one of those arms at the back end of the rotation into the bullpen. They also have Adbert Alzolay, who the Cubs activated from the 60-day IL (strained right shoulder) on Saturday, serving as a multi-inning reliever.
Injuries are responsible for the moving pieces amongst the pitching staff. When Thompson returns from the IL, he will be the third Cubs pitcher to be reinstated this month who was in – or in Alzolay’s case, expected to be in – the rotation prior to injury.
Miley, a veteran, slotted right back into the rotation. But he has yet to top 75 pitches in three starts back.On Monday, he gave up seven runs to the Marlins in three innings.
For Alzolay and Thompson’s development, the Cubs are opting for relief roles. Alzolay, who was sidelined most of the season, was on a similar program at the end of last year. After coming back from a strained left hamstring that landed him on the IL for two and a half weeks, Alzolay joined the bullpen for the final month of last season.
“You’re always wanting to check a box,” Hottovy said. “For Adbert, OK, he fought throughout the year to get healthy, he got healthy in rehab. He’s rehabbed, now he’s back here. And now [that] he’s back here, he wants to finish strong. Keep checking those boxes so that when you go into the offseason, you feel mentally, like you’re in a good place, and you know what you need to work on.”
Thompson began the year as a multi-inning reliever and thrived in the role. Now, the Cubs are keeping a close eye on Thompson’s workload, in his first full major-league season.
“Keegan’s had an amazing year,” Hottovy said. “He’s done really, really good things. There’s also things he knows he still wants to work on. And checking the boxes like, finishing the season healthy, being able to say, ‘OK I had a full workload throughout the year, 100 to 125 innings. Now, you’re building off that for next year.”
The Cubs have not yet ruled out the return of yet another starter: Justin Steele. Hottovy said they’re hoping for Steele (strained low back) to throw his next bullpen at least during this road trip, if not this series. It’s already been a week since his last bullpen session.
When asked if a return this year was realistic, Hottovy drew a distinction between “realistic” and “smart.”
“Realistic is possible,” he said. “Whether we want to push it – he’s gonna have to check a lot of boxes to make sure that we’re in a good place where we’re like, ‘OK, we’re going to do it.’ Because we know what he’s done, we know the workload. But, again, there’s just that mental side to, ‘OK, I’m healthy, I feel good, I can go compete.”