Thompson, making the 19th start of his Major League career, showed off a number of previously unseen facets of his game on Thursday, breezing past the Rockies in a 3-0 Cardinals win. Thompson used all three of his pitches to a degree he'd never managed before. He also showed a newly refined pickoff move and picked up his first career RBI.
"I want it to be [a game] that I can build on and keep going," Thompson said.
Thompson pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings against the reigning National League champions, allowing six hits and walking two. He struck out six Rockies, doubling his previous career high for a game. It was the first time in Thompson's career that he did not allow a run in a start.
"He pitched like he did all spring," said manager Tony La Russa "A lot of movement, used all different parts of the strike zone, mixed up his pitches, no pattern. He works quickly. He keeps the ball down. When the other guys get a base hit, he can mix in a double-play ball."
Long known almost exclusively as a sinkerball pitcher, Thompson concentrated on improving the quality of his secondary pitches this spring. He once pitched in a 10 a.m. ET simulated game with the express purpose of throwing changeups and breaking pitches.
All the work paid off. Of Thompson's six strikeouts, two came with his bread-and-butter sinker, two came on changeups and two came on breaking balls. Thompson's sinker got him to the Major Leagues, but it's having a full assortment that will make him the starter he wants to be.
"My changeup is as good as it's ever been," he said. "My breaking ball is good. I feel confident when those fingers go down that I can throw any of those pitches."
He helped himself in other ways besides his pitches, too. After Ryan Spilborghs led off the game by reaching base on an error, Thompson picked him off for the game's first out. It was his second career pickoff.
Todd Helton followed with a line drive to first base, but after that, Thompson's next 12 outs came either by strikeout or ground-ball out. He pounded the bottom of the strike zone, keeping his defense busy and happy and frustrating the Rockies.
"He reminds me of Kevin Brown. [Derek] Lowe, too," said shortstop Cesar Izturis, who played with both of those right-handers with the Dodgers. "Thompson gets the ball down a lot. Even his straight fastball is down. It's good. And I like him because he works quickly."
The Cardinals strung four consecutive singles together in the third inning to take a 2-0 lead, with RBIs coming from Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus. Thompson added an RBI single in the fifth inning to stretch the lead. After two two-out walks, he poked a ball through the right side off of opposing starter Ubaldo Jimenez.
"I just got lucky and found a hole," he said. "It was nice to get that first RBI."
He was threatened once more, but was bailed out by his defense. Helton singled and Matt Holliday walked with two outs in the sixth, and Garrett Atkins singled to left.
Skip Schumaker fielded the ball and got rid of it quickly as Helton came home, but Schumaker's throw was up the first-base side. Catcher Jason LaRue had to sprawl out to catch it, then pounce back to tag Helton for the third out.
"He could have easily not even tried to throw the ball home, just to ensure that the guys didn't advance or anything like that," LaRue said. "But as soon as the play started to develop, he went to the ball hard, he went to his instincts and I was able to tag the guy out."
Thompson walked the leadoff hitter in the next inning, but got Jeff Baker to hit into a double play. Chris Iannetta doubled to chase him with two outs in the seventh, but Thompson had done his job. On a day when the Cardinals had only four available relievers, Thompson got deep into the game and provided the series win.
"For me, it's [about] having three pitches right now that I feel pretty comfortable with," Thompson said. "If a guy is up there and he doesn't know that you're going to throw a sinker every single pitch, he's got something in the back of his head and it really helps me out."
The Cardinals received a scare early in the game when Atkins accidentally stepped on Albert Pujols' hand on a play at third base. However, Pujols stayed in for the rest of the game.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.