Thompson did exactly what pitching coach Dave Duncan likes -- pitch down in the zone and let his defense behind him go to work.
Well, half of his defense, actually. In Thompson's seven innings Tuesday night, the Cards infield recorded every out, either on a groundout, popout or strikeout. There were no deep fly balls or almost home runs. Thompson continually got ahead of hitters and induced ground ball after ground ball. A sinkerball pitcher, Thompson had that pitch working all night as it seemed like nothing fazed the young righty.
"I know I need to keep the ball down to be effective. I can't throw at the belt, because I don't throw 95 miles per hour]. I always know I need to keep it down," Thompson said. "It's as much command as I've had and it was many as ground balls as I've had this season. When I see the ball go in the air lately it's been a home run. It was nice to see the ball on the ground so much."
Thompson finally gave up a run in the seventh inning on an RBI groundball single by Joey Gathright. That was his only hiccup in a start that could certainly be classified as the best of his career.
Thompson went seven innings, allowing one run on seven hits. He struck out three and didn't walk a batter.
The righty didn't even know he was starting until he showed up at the stadium Tuesday afternoon. Kip Wells was originally scheduled to start, but was bumped back to Sunday. As a result, Thompson was moved up a day and got the start on Tuesday rather than Wednesday. Thompson threw two innings on June 16 in Oakland out of the bullpen
"For me, I really haven't figured out the whole starting thing yet in the first place, routine-wise," Thompson said. "I still had two days full rest. So, it wasn't that different. It was like throwing a bullpen beforehand. I just came ready if I was that guy. I didn't think for sure it was going to be me."
He showed no ill effects of getting the news late. He exited after throwing just 78 pitches through seven innings and improved to 5-2 on the season. After giving up his only run in the seventh, Thompson said he still felt good, but didn't mind coming out and letting the bullpen finish the game.
"I had a little trouble in that last inning," Thompson said. "I think Tony was thinking instead of having a blowup inning and turning a good outing into a bad one, he'd get me out of there."
Not that he needed it, but Thompson was spotted five runs in the first three innings by his offense and then cruised the rest of the way.
Chris Duncan provided the pop when he hit a two-run home run in the second off Royals starter Scott Elarton. It was his third homer in four at-bats against Elarton. Duncan now has 12 RBIs in his last five games.
The left fielder missed seven games in late May and early June with an infection in his left knee. Before the injury, he was batting .277. He came into Tuesday's game batting .257. La Russa said he thinks the knee injury played a part in Duncan's struggles and is happy to see his slugger healthy again.
"When you look at how he was and then he went out and came back. It was a pretty dramatic difference," La Russa said. "I'd have to guess there was some effect. I think the best is ahead for Chris this season."
In the third, the Cards gave Thompson even more breathing room. Thompson and So Taguchi started the inning with back-to-back singles. After a Juan Encarnacion flyout that moved Thompson to third, Albert Pujols delivered a sacrifice fly to right field that scored Thompson. Mark Teahen's throw from center field was over the catcher's head.
With two outs, Scott Spiezio singled to score Taguchi. Scott Rolen followed with a single of his own to put two men on for Duncan again. Royals manager Buddy Bell wasn't going to let Elarton face Duncan again and opted for left-handed reliever Neal Musser to get Duncan out.
Duncan came through with another two-out hit, scoring Spiezio and giving the Redbirds a five-run cushion. Duncan came into the game batting just .196 against lefties.
Duncan said he was a little disappointed when he saw Elarton exit, but was happy to get a key hit off a lefty.
"Hopefully, I can keep building on that," Duncan said. "I just feel like I'm seeing the ball better and able to slow it down a little bit more. I think I just wasn't seeing the ball when I first came back [from the injury]."