Split-fingered fastball leads Taylor Thompson to White Sox

Split-fingered fastball leads Taylor Thompson to White Sox
July 21, 2014, 8:45 pm
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Headed into his sixth season in the White Sox farm system, Taylor Thompson needed to get noticed quickly so he brought back his split-fingered fastball.

A day after his major league debut, the rookie reliever said Monday he hoped to reach the majors with the team that selected him in the 44th round of the 2009 amateur draft. With minor-league free agency approaching, Thompson looked at this season as perhaps his last opportunity with the White Sox and worked on his split-finger, a pitch that has led to health issues in the past. So far so good as Thompson, 27, has had the best season of his career.

“Came into this year and I was like, ‘I need to separate some how, some way,’ ” Thompson said. “ ‘I’m going to bring it back. If it bothers me, it bothers me. If it gets me to the big leagues, that’s the main thing.’ It has done well this year. I haven’t had any problems with it and it has been my go-to pitch when I get in situations.

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“This is the place I felt like I wanted to make my debut. It was a long road, but it finally happened and I’m grateful for that.”

Thompson has a 2.65 career ERA in the minors.

But the Auburn product hasn’t been able to stick with his split-fingered fastball for more than a season because of health issues, whether in college or in the pros. This season, Thompson’s arm has held up and he had a 2.61 ERA and 53 strikeouts at Triple-A Charlotte in 48 1/3 innings.

“I threw it so much in college it just kind of wore me out,” Thompson said. “That’s not much of a healthy pitch to be throwing all the time. Finally over these last few years my arm got accustomed to throwing as many and throwing it every day, every other day.”

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He also could get used to life in the majors ,but doesn’t plan to take anything for granted. Thompson hoped he’d get the call when the White Sox added a seventh reliever on Sunday, but knew he’d have to be added to the 40-man roster. He received the news on Saturday he was headed to Chicago that night.

The right-hander said it didn’t hit him he was in the majors until his first batter stepped in on Sunday. Afterward, Thompson’s phone was flooded with texts and calls from friends and family.

He said having some success — he struck out two over 1 2/3 scoreless innings — gives him confidence he belongs.

“When you come in and have a good outing on your first one, you have something to build off of,” Thompson said. “It helps with the confidence and stuff like that. It’s good to know you can come up here and compete with the big boys and hopefully I’ll stick around.”