When the Phillies acquired Jake Thompson three summers ago, he was hailed as Texas’ best pitching prospect and a possible mid-rotation starter. He was not the key to the Cole Hamels trade — the Phillies chose multiple lottery tickets over one blue-chip prospect — but he was an important piece. The Phillies needed arms; Thompson came with a pedigree.
The righthander has logged 100 innings in the majors, with Tuesday’s 4-1 over Washington a gratifying cap to his season, but there is less clarity about his future. He can at least enter winter with the satisfaction of two September victories over postseason-bound teams.
The 2017 Phillies will not lose 100 games, a feat that appeared guaranteed during the summer. Instead, the 1961 Phillies can extend their legacy as the answer to a sadistic trivia question.
“When I said that 98 losses, 99, or 100 didn’t matter, I lied,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “I admit it.”
Where Thompson, 23, fits into the larger picture is just one of countless unknowns that confront the franchise’s decision makers. He does not feature an electric arsenal. He is prone to command issues and hard-hit balls.
“I struggled for most of the season,” Thompson said. “I’d like to think my last little stretch up here was quality. I’m just looking to go into the offseason and improve on some things and come back better next year.”
One area of focus, he said, is to discover a more efficient approach. He started eight games for the Phillies this season and threw a pitch in the sixth inning just three times. On Tuesday, Mackanin offered a test to Thompson, who required 94 pitches to complete five innings. He had the sixth — until he plunked Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon with a first-pitch, 90-mph fastball. The manager emerged. He asked for the baseball.
Thompson, as a starter, pitched to a 3.26 ERA in 41 1/3 innings despite a low strikeout rate, a dangerous walk rate and a high home-run rate. For his big-league career, he has permitted more hits (103) than he has innings pitched. He has struck out 67 and walked 50. He has surrendered 19 homers.
He owns a career 4.86 ERA.
“He didn’t have a very good season at the triple-A level,” Mackanin said. “But, lately, he’s pitched very well up here. He’s a young guy. It takes a while for these guys to get it, to keep the ball down.”
For now, Thompson slots into the sizable pile of unproven arms that will compete for a rotation spot next spring. The Phillies are expected to add starters from outside the organization to join Aaron Nola in 2018. But there will be at least one and maybe more rotation jobs to be won in Florida.
This, the 158th game, was not the prettiest baseball ever attempted. The two starters combined to throw 96 pitches in the game’s first two innings. Just one run scored. Gio Gonzalez, one of the best pitchers in the National League this season, walked five Phillies in five innings. He fired 109 pitches to record those 15 outs.
The Phillies asked their maturing bullpen to register the final 12 outs. Nine were strikeouts.
“I can’t say enough about our bullpen,” Mackanin said.
Edubray Ramos struck out two in the sixth inning. Adam Morgan, who has a 0.72 ERA in his last 25 innings, struck out two in the seventh inning. Luis Garcia struck out two in the eighth inning. Hector Neris, who converted his 19th straight save chance, struck out the side in the ninth.
His last victim, the man standing between the Phillies and the glory of avoiding 100 losses, was Jayson Werth. He swung and missed at a splitter in the dirt. Neris raised his arms to the sky.