Cubs shed light on pitching plans for final stretch of the season
Only a week of baseball remains, but the Cubs have a slew of injured pitchers whose statuses are still up in the air.
Justin Steele (back) threw a bullpen Tuesday while Wade Miley (oblique) played catch. Drew Smyly (shoulder) also threw a bullpen this week.
Steele has been on the IL since Sept. 2 and hasn’t pitched since he left his start early on Aug. 26 in Milwaukee.
David Ross said Wednesday Steele’s bullpen went well but doesn’t anticipate the 27-year-old southpaw to pitch in a game again this season.
“Steeley threw really well,” Ross said. “He’ll throw one more pretty intense bullpen and we’ll assess after that. I don’t know if he’ll be back but we’ll see how that goes.”
The Cubs have a big picture in mind with Steele, who has established himself as a fixture in this rotation moving forward.
In 24 starts this season, he is 4-7 with a 3.18 ERA and 1.35 WHIP while striking out 126 batters in 119 innings.
Steele was particularly impressive over his final 10 starts with a sparkling 1.49 ERA, 5 quality starts and 65 whiffs in 54.1 innings.
“What’s the point of 2 innings where a guy has proven that [he can be a big-league starter]?” Ross said. “I think the main thing is he’s working on some stuff. The bullpen was intense — just continue to build off that and get into the offseason right is important.
“Coming back and starting, coming out of the bullpen — whatever we would ask him to do with where we’re at and having enough pitching — it just makes some sense to me to just go ahead and send him off on a high note.”
The Cubs have also been cognizant of Steele’s overall workload this season. Prior to 2022, he had never thrown more than 98.2 innings in a season in his career.
“When he had the back issue, our whole goal with him was to finish the season strong,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean having to pitch in a game. I think he’s trending in a direction we want to. So if we check the boxes and he throws another really good, high-intensity bullpen, I think we’ll evaluate it at that point.
“Do we want to put him in a game for a couple innings or are we good with him just saying, ‘you know what? I’m healthy, I feel great’ and just start focusing on the things we want to do this offseason? He’s been working really good and feeling really good.”
[MORE: The Cubs pitching staff is seeing early fruits of organizational depth]
Smyly, meanwhile, is in a completely different place.
“Drew’s gonna make another start for sure,” Ross said.
Smyly hasn’t pitched since Sept. 14 due to a shoulder fatigue. He was supposed to start last week against the Marlins in Miami but was scratched.
The 33-year-old veteran missed over a month with an oblique injury in the middle of the season but has been one of the team’s most consistent pitchers since he returned.
Since the beginning of August, Smyly is 4-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 8 starts — and that includes a tough outing on Sept. 3 where he surrendered 7 earned runs in 2.1 innings.
Miley, 35, was originally expected to play a big role in the Cubs rotation this season but has been plagued by injuries. He was slowed in Spring Training with an elbow issue and didn’t make his 2022 debut until May 10. Then a tricky shoulder injury limited him to only 1 start from May 22 through Sept. 6.
Just as he was building back up to full strength, Miley was forced to leave his outing Saturday in Pittsburgh with the oblique issue.
Neither Smyly nor Miley have been placed on the IL so both players could return this season without a roster move. After Thursday’s series finale with the Phillies, the Cubs host the Reds for a 3-game set at Wrigley Field before another 3-game series in Cincinnati to close out the year.
Smyly has a mutual option for 2023 while Miley is set to become a free agent.
Part of the reason the Cubs have been able to absorb the loss of the trio of lefties is the performance of rookie Hayden Wesneski who has stepped up big in the rotation. The young right-hander kept the Phillies at bay for 5 innings Wednesday night (1 run) to pick up his 3rd victory.
Wesneski now has a 2.33 ERA and 0.96 WHIP over his first 5 MLB outings.