A month layoff didn’t appear to faze Keegan Thompson or the quality of his stuff.
Hours after the Chicago Cubs activated the right-hander from the 15-day injured list, Thompson tossed three scoreless innings and struck out six to secure a 4-3 win against the Miami Marlins at LoanDepot Park. The Cubs rallied on Patrick Wisdom’s solo homer in the seventh and three runs without a hit in the eighth.
Thompson felt he was moving too quickly when facing the first batter of each inning but was able to settle down and get in a rhythm.
“It was nice to come out there and show that they had the confidence to go out there and that I can finish it,” Thompson said. “It’s just nice to finish the year and finish strong and not finish on the IL, go out there and keep throwing and give us a chance to win.”
Thompson was out with low back tightness and will be used out of the bullpen, where he looks to finish strong the next two weeks. In 104⅓ innings entering Wednesday, Thompson owned a 3.97 ERA, 1.313 WHIP, 2.46 strikeout-to-walk rate and a 104 ERA+ through 25 games (17 starts).
“You never know with having some time off how it’s going to react,” manager David Ross said. “Not a lot of pressure early on in the outing, and he settled in. … I thought he settled in nicely once he got his groove and then to close it out right there. Never saw him flinch. He looked like the guy we’ve seen have a lot of success all year.”
Rookie reliever Jeremiah Estrada, whom the Cubs optioned to Triple-A Iowa before Wednesday’s series finale as the corresponding move for Thompson, left a strong impression in his last outing.
The 23-year-old right-hander walked the first batter he faced Monday in Miami before recovering to strike out the side. Estrada finished with two scoreless innings, his best outing since he debuted Aug. 30 in Toronto.
Estrada’s five appearances — with two runs allowed in 5⅔ innings — represent a small big-league sample size, but manager David Ross noted how the rookie has shown flashes of stuff.
Ross’ message to Estrada centered on continuing to work on his strengths and weaknesses because he could be recalled at some point.
“It’s some real swing and miss that stands out to me,” Ross said Wednesday. “He had a couple of bumps in the road there, which is expected. Just talking to him, helping him continue to develop and the things he wants to work on. Finding a strong routine that he believes in consistently and staying on that, working toward that.
“We’ve seen it before, some guy goes down and something happens up here and they’re right back.”
Esteban Quiroz’s memorable night
Esteban Quiroz’s professional baseball career traces back to his native Mexico, where he spent his first seven pro years in the Mexican League.
He didn’t join a minor-league affiliate until 2018 with the Boston Red Sox. Stints with three major-league organizations over the next four years eventually led him to the Cubs as part of a March trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Quiroz, 30, made his first major-league start Tuesday and collected his first hit and made a pair of nice defensive plays at second base, prompting Ross to declare after the game that Quiroz would be back in the lineup Wednesday.
Quiroz led off in the series finale and made another smooth play at second to help starter Marcus Stroman. His sacrifice bunt opened the scoring in the eighth after back-to-back walks by Zach McKinstry and Christopher Morel.
A throwing error by Marlins pitcher Steven Okert on the play allowed McKinstry to score and Quiroz and Morel to reach second and third.
“Once I saw the video, I think the pitcher didn’t think I have that speed in me,” Quiroz said through an interpreter. “But I’m just here to give my effort, give my 100%. I ran as fast as I could and I’m just here to help the team win, give it my all and try to help them out.”
While these final two weeks carry no postseason meaning for the Cubs, they remain important to players such as Quiroz who are appreciating their major-league opportunity.
“It was a very humbling experience, really,” Quiroz said. “I dreamt of this moment. I was thinking about it a lot. It’s something that I’ve worked for. And (Monday) night they let me know that I was going to start the game.
“I started focusing on what I needed to do to be prepared to have the best start that I could. The three at-bats back in Chicago, I didn’t really perform the way that I wanted to. So I want to make sure I went out there and performed well.”
Marcus Stroman’s important pitch
The called strikes keep coming.
Stroman’s sinker has been particularly effective lately. After recording 14 called strikes with the pitch in his last start, his most since the beginning of the 2018 season, Stroman again had hitters guessing Wednesday with 10 called strikes with his sinker.
Stroman, as he typically does, relied predominantly on a sinker-slider combination versus the Marlins. He allowed three runs and five hits in six innings while walking one batter and striking out seven, one shy of his season high.
All three runs came off two home runs in the fifth. Nick Fortes took a 2-0 sinker deep to give the Marlins a 2-0 lead, and Lewin Diaz followed two batters later with a solo shot.
“I felt good to be honest,” Stroman said. “Even those pitches, I could have thrown the cutter a little deeper. He took a really good swing on that cutter in and then the sinker away. I probably should have thrown that sinker middle-middle. You live and you learn.
“They could have popped it up and it could have been a different story. So, yeah, in hindsight, I probably should have made a little better execution with location.”
Ross credits Stroman’s sinker usage as the root of the right-hander’s success since returning from the IL in July.
“It’s been his best pitch well before he got here, but the main thing is he got back to using that a little bit more and having confidence in that,” Ross said. “That’s what I’ve seen and I think everything plays off that. He’s a really confident guy, especially when he has that two-seamer going and he’s been able to land the off-speed for strikes off that.”