Cubs Spring Training Notebook: Swanson’s winning mentality, Lester’s mark on Steele, Cubs make some spring history
PEORIA, Ariz. — Justin Steele wrapped up an inning in his spring debut and headed into the dugout to chat with Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.
That’s a regular occurrence for any pitcher, but on Friday night this meeting had a different element — shortstop Dansby Swanson was a part of the conversation.
“Dansby has the pitch thing in his hat as well so he knows what I’m throwing,” Steele told Rick Sutcliffe on the Marquee Sports Network broadcast. “He was just asking some questioning, wondering some of the sequencing I was doing. Just some good baseball talk, trying to be on the same page as all nine guys out there.”
Swanson is always trying to find any little edge he can get. He talked a lot about winning during his introductory press conference and has carried that into the spring.
So even in an exhibition game, Swanson is doing all he can to get on the same page as his teammates.
“I feel like as an infielder, I see certain things and I kinda call my own game in my head at shortstop and kinda pick their brains on why they do certain things and give my input on what I believe and what I think and things to watch out for,” Swanson said. “It’s really us just being able to help one another because at the end of the day, if there’s something that we can share to each other that’s gonna make us better, we need to obviously be able to communicate that.”
Swanson said he’s been “calling his own game” at shortstop for the past three years and credits former teammate Travis d’Arnaud and Braves catching coach Sal Fasano with helping teach him more about calling a game from a catcher’s perspective.
“I’m the believer of if it’s gonna help us win, I need to know about it and need to be able to help others with it too,” Swanson said. “Just feel like that’s part of my duty and I enjoy it.
“I wish I could pitch but my arm’s not good enough,” Swanson added, smiling.
When the Cubs were recruiting Swanson over the winter, David Ross was impressed with the All-Star shortstop’s mindset.
“He’s always thinking about how to get an edge — it’s a winning mindset,” Ross said. “Everything he’s talking about or doing is either giving you a hard time about not being perfect or giving you a little bit of the knowledge that he’s learned in his time and other places. It’s always surrounded by winning.
“I think his mindset is what’s really stood out to me. It was easy to see that in our meetings in the offseason when we were recruiting him and that hasn’t changed. It’s even been more in the forefront as you talk to him.”
Steele’s efficient debut
Justin Steele had to wait a few days to make his Cactus League debut and by the time he got on the mound, he was so efficient that he actually needed to throw a bunch more pitches in the Cubs bullpen just to get work in.
Steele was scratched from his first start last Sunday with general arm soreness but took his turn in the rotation the second time around on Friday. He needed just 18 pitches to get 4 groundouts and a couple of lineouts against some of the Padres’ top bats, including Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth.
After he came out of the game, Steele went to the bullpen to throw 25 more pitches.
The 27-year-old enjoyed a breakout season last year with the Cubs, sporting a 3.18 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 24 starts, striking out 126 batters in 119 innings.
He really started to hit his stride after some advice from Jon Lester early in the season. Lester texted his good friend Ross about how the young southpaw can attack hitters and Steele took that into games.
Ross is trying to get Lester out to Cubs camp this spring at some point and is “a little confident” he can make that happen.
“[Lester will] still be heavily involved,” Ross said. “A lot of that is just who he is and him trying to help out. I think he has taken a liking to Justin and probably taking some similarities in there with him.”
Of course, Steele is absolutely open to having Lester come out to Sloan Park and the Nike Performance Center.
“I would love to have him around camp,” Steele said. “Pick his brain, let him watch one of my bullpens so he could just give me any kind of knowledge. Anything he has to say, I’m more than willing to listen to it. He pitched for a long time in the big leagues and that’s something I want to do. If I can have anything close to his career, I’ll be extremely happy with it.”
Cubs make spring history
Spring Training games may not count but the Cubs pulled off some history Friday evening at the Peoria Sports Complex.
Seven different pitchers combined to no-hit the Padres, which is the first spring no-hitter in Cubs franchise history (per the team). It’s only the 43rd spring no-hitter in MLB history and the first since March 24, 2017.
Steele tossed 2 innings followed by Javier Assad’s 2 shutout innings. Brad Boxberger, Adbert Alzolay, Jeremiah Estrada, Cam Sanders and Nick Burdi each threw an inning apiece to finish the game off and combined for 7 strikeouts.
Updates on a couple key pitchers
Brandon Hughes and Keegan Thompson figure to play big roles in the Cubs bullpen this season but a week into Cactus League action, neither pitcher has appeared in a game yet.
However, they’ve each thrown live BPs in the last few days and are on track to be ready by Opening Day.
“We reset some of their programming in the offseason but nothing that we’re concerned about,” Ross said. “Just probably a week on a different program for them. They’re good. They’re getting their work in in a great way and building up. They’ve thrown on the back field and some sim games and different things. They’ll be ready.”
The Cubs host the Angels Saturday at Sloan Park. Jameson Taillon will make his second appearance in a Cubs uniform with first pitch scheduled for 2:05 p.m. on Marquee Sports Network.