Duncan was right. Thompson finally got his first career Grapefruit League start on Wednesday, and he looked very much like the pitcher the Cardinals have come to know over the past three seasons. He didn't dominate, but he pitched effectively. He kept the ball on the ground for the most part, but also gave up a home run.
"I felt good about the fact that I felt like I was getting stronger as I was going," Thompson said. "I felt like I was getting a better feel for stuff as I went on, and that's a good thing. I'd rather feel like that than be gassed in the third inning. I felt good."
Thompson allowed two earned runs on four hits over 4 1/3 innings, but it easily could have been only one earned run. Troy Glaus misplayed a grounder in the first inning was ruled a hit, and Baltimore's Melvin Mora scored on the play. The only other tally against Thompson was solo homer by Kevin Millar after Thompson had been handed a 7-1 lead.
On a day when the wind was blowing stiffly out to left field, though, even that was forgiven by his skipper.
"On a day like today, there was no bad news," manager Tony La Russa said. "He did a heck of a job."
It remains to be seen whether Thompson's effort was enough to get him another start this spring, never mind a spot in the season-opening rotation. The path of least resistance will likely send him back to the bullpen, however. The club views him as a valuable reliever, and has no interest in using Anthony Reyes in relief. If this current pitching battle is close, it's likely that Reyes will start, with Thompson going back to his familiar bullpen/swingman role.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.