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Justin Steele’s career day sparks Cubs to series win in Arizona

1 month agoAndy Martinez

After having his last start cut short due to thumb soreness, Justin Steele made up for the lost time in a big way.

“That was kinda the main thing for me to be able to go today was make sure my thumb feels completely comfortable no matter what pitch I’m throwing today,” Steele told reporters after Sunday’s finale against the Diamondbacks. “And it definitely was.”

The lefty struck out a career-high 10 batters, inducing 13 whiffs and allowing just 2 runs — only 1 earned — in 6 innings of work as the Cubs beat the Diamondbacks 3-2 and won their second straight series. The Cubs went 4-2 on their West Coast road trip against the Padres and Diamondbacks.

It was his best start of the season and arguably the best start of his career — his 7 strikeouts in 7 innings against Pittsburgh last September a close contender for that title. But what made Steele’s start so dominant Sunday was his ability to finish hitters with his slider and attacking hitters low in the zone. Eight of Steele’s 10 strikeouts came on his slider, one on his four-seam fastball and one on his sinker.

“Slider was working very well today,” Steele said. “Was able to get the swing and miss and for strike whenever I wanted. I felt really good with.”

Oh, and then there was his ability to work out of jams.

It appeared the effects of the thumb injury were still lingering when Steele allowed a leadoff triple in the bottom of the 1st, but he quickly settled in. He struck out Jordan Luplow on a slider in the dirt, induced a lazy popup to short from Ketel Marte and then Seiya Suzuki backed up Steele with a remarkable diving catch in right field to escape the inning.

“Even when he fell behind, he was able to kinda get back in the zone and get those guys to earn their way on,” manager David Ross said. “ I thought that was just the key for him tonight, just pounding the zone.”

 

Steele struck out the side in the 2nd inning, punched out two of the three hitters he faced in the 3rd, but then ran into some trouble again.

After picking up the first two outs in the 4th, the Diamondbacks were able to scrape together a pair of runs after an RBI-single and an error. It looked like Arizona had gotten to Steele — but the 26-year-old showed his moxie.

He settled in, pitching 1-2-3 innings in the 5th and 6th innings picking up 3 strikeouts in the process.

“Just staying focused,” Steele said. “Whatever’s going on in the field with dink hits, whatever’s going on, just trying to stay focused, stay in the moment and be where your feet are. I think that’s kinda what I was doing just trying to stay focused, stay in the game, make the next pitch.”

His 4th inning strikeout on Pavin Smith with his sinker was the only strikeout that came in the upper part of the zone. Five of his strikeouts came on pitches outside the strike zone, showcasing just how hard a time the Diamondbacks had in picking him up.

“Felt good with my four-seam going in and out, had my sinker in play as well my curveball,” Steele said. “Was able to throw my curveball in for a strike when I wanted to and, in the dirt, when I wanted to. It was just one of them starts, kinda had the pitches I needed working.”

His 6 innings gave the Cubs much-needed length, too. The team is in the midst of a 14-day stretch with no days off, so his ability to preserve the bullpen a little bit was crucial. The Cubs got 6 innings of work from Drew Smyly in the opener in Arizona, 5.2 innings from Kyle Hendricks on Saturday and 6 innings from Steele today.

“It’s saved us,” Ross said. “Just really nice outings. Guys throwing the ball really well. Pounding the zone. They’re in the zone, efficient, early, keeping their pitch count down, attacking hitters, making it easy to leave them out there.”

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