Justin Steele notches another important ‘learning experience’ in start against MLB-best Giants
The stat line might not indicate the growth moment that occurred for Justin Steele Sunday afternoon.
The Cubs rookie southpaw surrendered 5 runs on 11 hits and 2 walks over 5 innings against the San Francisco Giants but also hit an important milestone.
Steele threw 101 pitches in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss at Wrigley Field. As the organization has built him up into a starting role and evaluates his potential to stick in the rotation in 2022 and beyond, that’s a notable achievement.
“I don’t really remember the last time I threw 100 pitches,” Steele said.
It has only happened two other times in his professional career — June 4, 2017 with Advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach (103 pitches) and May 18, 2016 with Class-A South Bend (103 pitches).
This year, Steele has only topped 80 pitches on three occasions, including an 86-pitch outing Sept. 1 in Minnesota.
“That’s part of the process, it’s part of moving forward as a starter,” Steele said. “You gotta be able to go over 100 pitches sometimes. You gotta grind through outings and that was one of the ones today where you just have to grind through with what you’ve got. Would’ve liked to have left a lower number on the board as far as score but this is definitely a learning experience.”
The results weren’t exactly what Steele or the Cubs envisioned in those 101 pitches Sunday. But he was also facing the best team in baseball — a 93-win Giants squad that has incredible depth and threw a lineup packed with right-handed hitters at Steele.
“They have the best record in baseball for a reason but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that I need to execute pitches more often and make better pitches,” Steele said. “I just need to go out there and execute more pitches.”
He also didn’t get much help from the official scorer on a play in the 4th inning. Cubs third baseman Matt Duffy bobbled a ground ball to allow a run to score with 2 outs. It was ruled a hit instead of an error and thus, an earned run went on Steele’s tally.
The young southpaw was also one pitch away from escaping the 5th inning with a scoreless frame. After allowing a leadoff single to Kris Bryant (who advanced to second base on Alfonso Rivas’ error in left field), Steele got Buster Posey to line out and Evan Longoria to fly out.
But on a 3-2 pitch, Giants first baseman Wilmer Flores connected on Steele’s offering for a 2-run homer.
“That’s a really good lineup they have over there,” David Ross said. “They’re really talented from both sides and can run a lot of tough matchups for you out there. They’ve done a really nice job all year long with doing that. He didn’t have his best stuff and was in there. Other than the homer to Flores, we’re in that game before that home run.”
In analyzing his start, Steele pointed to a need for throwing a first-pitch strike more often. He got ahead of hitters just 42 percent of the time Sunday, throwing his first pitch in the zone 11 times to the 26 batters he faced.
“I really need to go out there and get Strike 1 and get ahead of hitters,” Steele said. “When you’re working behind in counts, it puts the advantage in the hitters by a big margin. Getting Strike 1 is gonna be very important moving forward.”
After the outing, Steele’s season stat line stands at a 4.39 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.
If the Cubs keep their rotation on the same schedule, Steele figures to get his next shot Saturday in Milwaukee against the NL Central-leading Brewers.