After sharpest outing of season, Jake Thompson knows he needs to work on his command

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ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Perhaps the only person who can get to Jake Thompson is … well, Jake Thompson.

When Thompson is at his sharpest, as he was Thursday in a 2-1 IronPigs victory over Gwinnett, he's one of the best pitching prospects in the Phillies' organization.

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound right-hander tossed eight innings of one-run baseball Thursday, the only score he's allowed in his last three starts at Triple A Lehigh Valley. The kid has it going on right now.

Yet every once in a while, Thompson seems to get roughed up. In fact, in three of his 13 outings this season, the 22-year-old has been tagged for five or more earned runs, the most recent of those events occurring May 31, when he allowed six over 3⅔ innings.

So what's the difference between a performance like that and the strong showing the other night?

Quite simply, it's all about control.

"When he's commanding the baseball, his outings are spot on," IronPigs manager Dave Brundage, who insists Thompson often gets himself into trouble, said. "A couple times he's feeling his way into the ballgame and costing himself some innings on the other end."

Thompson does have a tendency to struggle with command. Even in a masterful performance like Thursday's, the 2012 second-round pick often worked from behind batters, walking two. And while it's an easy thing to overlook after that kind of showing, he's awarded at least that many free passes in all but four starts this season.

It's an issue that still catches up with him on occasion.

"Hopefully we can get that resurrected a little bit and get after it a little sooner without going deep counts, running 1-2 counts into 3-2 counts and then having to make a pitch," Brundage said. "Sometimes we walk a guy or give up a base hit."

Brundage stressed Thompson's command is typically more a problem early on, which has resulted in his inability to go deep in many games. Thursday was only the second time he's gone eight innings in 2016, while he's lasted less in six trips to the hill, or essentially half of his starts.

"That's a young man feeling his way into the ballgame, and in the meantime he's thrown 40 pitches in the first two innings, so he's only got about 60 to work with the rest of the ballgame." Brundage said.

"He gets upset cause he's coming out. Well, we need to take care of the problem at the start of the ballgame. It's not the end of the ballgame. When he's on a roll and he's throwing strikes and pounding that zone, he's as good as anybody we have."

It's the fastball in particular Thompson needs to command, but when he is able to locate it, the pitcher admits he's more comfortable on the mound.

Acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade last July, Thompson's record sits at 5-5 after earning a no decision in his last start — although his ERA did improve to 3.18. In fact, he's allowed just one runner across the plate over the past 21 frames, by far his most dominant stretch this season and quite possibly of his professional career.

Thompson has been so impressive, he could very well wind up being the next pitcher called up to the big leagues should the Phillies need another arm. Most recently, he was passed over for Zach Eflin, but Thompson appears to be next in line. At the very least, a September call-up might be in his future.

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