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Justin Steele picked up where he left off with a strong 2023 debut for Cubs

11 months agoTony Andracki

Prior to Saturday’s game, David Ross was asked what he expected in Justin Steele’s 2023 debut.

“Looking for him to go out and start his season and piggyback on the success he had last year,” Ross said.

That’s exactly what Steele was able to accomplish, tossing 6 shutout innings against the Brewers. The Cubs bullpen eventually was touched up for 3 runs in the 8th inning in a 3-1 loss but Steele did his part.

“I thought he threw a phenomenal game,” Ross said. “That’s as good as we’ve seen him outside of that 1st inning. When he got into his rhythm, he looked really, really good.”

Steele did have an inauspicious start to the game as he and the Cubs were actually a couple minutes early on the field and needed to wait until the 1:20 p.m. scheduled first pitch.

He then walked the leadoff hitter on 4 pitches and also gave up a single 2 batters later. He induced a ground ball to get an inning-ending double play but still needed 19 pitches to get through the inning.

Steele allowed only 2 baserunners over the next 5 frames.

“Definitely found a rhythm and once I got going, I was in my groove and felt comfortable out there,” Steele said. “First game jitters type thing. Once I found my groove, I was rolling and felt good.”

The 27-year-old southpaw enjoyed a breakout campaign last year in the Cubs rotation, posting a 3.18 ERA in 24 starts while averaging 9.5 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Before a back injury cost him the final few weeks, Steele had put up a stretch where he boasted the best ERA among National League starters over a 2-month period.

Not wanting to rest on that success, Steele moved his family to Arizona in the offseason so he could be near the Cubs’ complex and work out at the facility five days a week.

“I think it’s really important,” Steele said of his offseason plan. “Being around the staff year-round, always having open lines of communication, I think it made a lot of difference. Had me more comfortable coming into Spring Training.”

Dating back to the middle of June last year, Steele has a 1.34 ERA over his past 11 starts with 73 strikeouts in 60.1 innings.

He really started to take off after receiving some advice from Jon Lester through Ross. Steele started utilizing his 4-seam fastball in on right-handed hitters more and using his slider off of that.

He was efficient Saturday, needing only 84 pitches to get through 6 innings.

“You always want to start on a good note and build off that,” Steele said.

He has dominated the Brewers throughout his career. Including Saturday, he has a 2.23 ERA in 11 appearances and 48.1 innings against the Cubs’ divisional rival.

The Cubs could not have asked for more out of their rotation through the first 2 games of the 2023 campaign, as Marcus Stroman and Steele became the first pair of Cubs starting pitchers to not allow a run through the team’s first to begin the year since at least 1906.

Jameson Taillon takes the hill Sunday as the Cubs aim for the series victory to open the season.

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