Justin Steele learns another valuable lesson in Cubs rotation
Another start, another valuable lesson for Justin Steele in the Cubs rotation.
The young southpaw battled through traffic all evening in Cincinnati, ultimately coming out of the game after 4 innings and earning the loss in a 14-5 Cubs defeat at the hands of the Reds. It was the team’s 12th straight loss.
Steele gave up 8 baserunners in 4 innings but limited the damage for the most part, including defending his position with a pair of athletic plays:
Scoop 'n (save the) score. pic.twitter.com/hOqLZ1sxB2— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) August 17, 2021
“In those situations, you kinda have to be a little finer with your pitches, locate a little bit better,” Steele said of his ability to escape jams. “In gritty moments, you kinda have to bite down and get after it. I’m not gonna say I like those moments but I like getting out of those moments. It feels good.”
“Throwing in the bullpen earlier this year helped me a lot with multiple things, along with getting out of tough situations like that. All the routines and stuff that I learned in the bullpen, I’ve translated it over to being a starter and it’s really helped.”
Steele put the leadoff runner on in 3 of his 4 innings, including the 4th when he walked Tyler Naquin to begin the frame. After a strikeout and a fielder’s choice, he was an out away from escaping the jam.
But Reds leadoff hitter Jonathan India came up and smacked Steele’s 2-2 offering for a 2-run shot.
It was the only blemish on Steele’s day but ultimately the sheer volume of traffic led to a high pitch count (82), so manager David Ross opted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the 5th and Steele gave way to the Cubs bullpen. A trio of Cubs relievers combined to give up 12 runs in the latter innings of the game.
This was the second big-league start for the 26-year-old southpaw and he once again flashed his promise and potential.
“I thought he was pretty impressive,” Ross said. “He had electric stuff. He moved the fastball around really well. Pitched out of some jams. Made pitches when he had to. Really nice job getting out of some traffic there in the 3rd [inning]. I thought he threw well. Looked like the slider and the breaking stuff was really sharp tonight. I was pretty impressed.”
Steele struck out 5 batters and induced 13 swings-and-misses, hitting 97 mph on the radar gun at times:
The Cubs and Steele hope he can work deeper into games as his run in the rotation continues. But there’s a lot to like about the rookie’s foray into a starting role and he’ll look to keep it going over the remainder of the season.
“I’m always trying to get myself better for the team,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and do everything I can to win ballgames. I’m gonna go out there and I’m gonna compete my tail off every time. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, it doesn’t matter what our record is. I don’t really pay attention to those things. Whenever I have the rock, I’m gonna go out there and compete.”
Keegan Thompson may join Steele in the rotation soon, but it sounds like he’ll have at least one more outing in Triple-A as he builds up in a switch from the bullpen to the rotation. Thompson threw 61 pitches in 4.1 perfect innings in his start Sunday with the Iowa Cubs.
The Cubs are also expecting Adbert Alzolay to return to the rotation this season. The right-hander injured his hamstring over the weekend in Miami and hit the injured list but he was playing catch on the field Monday in Cincinnati.