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MIAMI — The goal for many of the Cubs’ players — and Major Leaguers in general — in the final weeks of the season is to get to Game 162 and into the offseason healthy. They also want to lay the foundation both physically and mentally for their winter work.
For right-hander Keegan Thompson, who is eyeing a consistent rotation spot next season, that sentiment rings especially true. After spending about a month on the IL with low back tightness, Thompson made a triumphant return in the Cubs’ 4-3 win over the Marlins on Wednesday at loanDepot park to close out the series.
Thompson, who made 17 starts for Chicago after beginning the season in a long-relief role, is finishing the season back in that high-leverage bullpen spot. He proved why Wednesday, tossing three scoreless innings behind Marcus Stroman, allowing just one hit and one walk and striking out six of the 11 batters he faced.
When Thompson took the bump for the ninth inning — during which he struck out three around a two-out double — he was all too aware of the Cubs fans scattered throughout the stands on the first-base side. After all, they all cheered for every strike Thompson threw that inning.
“I kind of ended a little rough this year before I went on that IL stint,” Thompson said. “So it was nice to come out there and [that they] had the confidence in me to go out there in the ninth and finish it.
“It’s just nice to finish the year, and finish strong and not finish on the IL. And go out there and keep throwing and give us a chance to win.”
Stroman himself was solid. He faltered in the fifth but attributed that to two pitches that weren’t quite where he wanted them — one that led to an ground-rule double, the other a two-run homer. With three runs over six innings, Stroman tossed his third quality start this month. (He went seven innings on Sept. 4 and Friday.)
“I felt good, to be honest,” Stroman said. “Even those pitches — like, 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-in.”
Meanwhile, Thompson got his 10th win of the season thanks to some late-inning heroics, including David Bote’s RBI, the 10th of his career that tied the game or gave his team the lead in the eighth inning or later.
Bote had recorded his ninth such RBI in Tuesday’s win, producing the game-winning run on a sac fly in the eighth. On Wednesday, it was an RBI fielder’s choice — but one that didn’t result in any outs. That hasn’t been the most impressive aspect of Bote’s current hot streak, which has seen him hit safely in seven of his past nine games. For manager David Ross, it’s Bote’s defensive skills that have been key, as well as his plate discipline.
“The thing I’ve loved most is his defense,” Ross said. “But what stood out to me today was that [Dylan Floro] is a really good pitcher. He’s tough on righties. And [David] wasn’t chasing in. He took a lot of good pitches and made them come to him.”
In the coming weeks, Bote will continue to hit. Stroman will get at least two more starts. And Thompson will continue to add to his 107 1/3 innings pitched this year — the most he’s thrown at any level since 2018 — coming out of the bullpen. While he’s already made a great case for himself as a consistent rotation arm next season, there’s always more to do.
“[Keegan’s] been pretty dominant all year,” Stroman said. “So I expected him to come in and be dominant. He’s fresh. … I’m excited to have him in the rotation hopefully next year with no stoplights and just kind of, all green, all go all year.”