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Cubs will be ‘creative’ with rotation as Justin Steele nears return to Chicago

10 months agoTony Andracki

DENVER — When Justin Steele was working his way back from a hamstring strain earlier this summer, the Cubs seized the opportunity to stretch out the rookie southpaw and see what he could do in the rotation.

That moment is now on the horizon as Steele is set to join the big-league rotation in the coming days, though the Cubs won’t divulge their exact plan just yet.

“We’re gonna map some things out here, talk to all the starters, figure out exactly where he fits in,” David Ross said. “We’ve got a plan, we’ll communicate that to him and the rest of the group really soon. We should see him sooner rather than later, for sure.”

Steele could replace somebody in the rotation next week but it’s more likely the team shifts to a six-man rotation.

With workload a concern for pitchers this season following last year’s shortened campaign, a six-man rotation would afford the Cubs starters a bit more rest down the stretch while staying on a somewhat-normal routine.

“We will be as creative as possible,” Ross said. “I think there is a willingness for everybody to continue to make starts and we’ll move some things around and make some adjustments as we go.

“Things change really fast in our day-to-day — who’s healthy, who’s not, who’s available. We’ll get creative, make sure we’re still keeping guys healthy. [That’s] a priority for us and making sure guys continue to compete.”

Steele threw 5 innings of 1-run ball Wednesday with Triple-A Iowa, striking out 8 batters. It was his 5th start in his build-up process and he has a 0.87 ERA and 0.97 WHIP with 27 strikeouts in 20.2 innings over those outings.

Prior to the hamstring injury, Steele was a big part of the Cubs bullpen, posting a 2.03 ERA and 14.2 K/9 in 11 games as a short-burst reliever and in a multi-inning role.

The Cubs will send out Kyle Hendricks, Adbert Alzolay and Zach Davies for the three-game series against the White Sox at Wrigley Field this weekend. They could slot Steele in early next week against the Brewers and give either Alec Mills or Jake Arrieta (or both) an extra day of rest.

Mills started Wednesday night and turned in another quality outing for the Cubs. Arrieta surrendered 4 runs on 9 hits in 4 innings against the Rockies Thursday afternoon.

With two months still to play in a season without playoff implications, the Cubs will be cautious of putting undue stress on their starters.

Hendricks came into this year hoping to approach 200 innings but some extra rest down the stretch could be best for him long-term. He’s already thrown 47.1 more innings this season than he did in 2020.

Davies has seen his workload jump 43.1 innings from last year while Mills and Arrieta have also eclipsed their 2020 totals.

The Cubs came into this season discussing ways to manage Alzolay’s workload. The 26-year-old right-hander has never thrown more than 120.1 innings in a season and he’s sitting at 98.1 entering his start against the White Sox on Saturday.

The Cubs are also in the process of stretching out Keegan Thompson to give the young righty an opportunity to showcase what he can do as a starter. But he has made only 1 start in the minor leagues and figures to still be a few weeks away from factoring into the big-league rotation.

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