Justin Steele continues to take steps forward in Cubs’ win over the RedsRussell Dorseyon September 6, 2021 at 10:23 pm

After learning from his first handful of big league starts, Cubs starter Justin Steele took a step forward in his last start against the Twins. Steele featured his full repertoire and earned his first win as a starter in Minnesota.

Coming off his best performance as a starter against the Twins, Steele picked up right where he left in Monday’s 4-3 win over the Reds. It was Steele’s second time facing Cincinnati as a starter and he didn’t look fazed early.

“Similar to Minnesota, I had a command of my two-seam and four-seam [fastball] for the most part of the first five innings,” Steele said. “Felt really good with my curveball, really good with my slider. Felt good with my changeup today too. I didn’t throw any in the game, but warming up in the bullpen, I felt like I had a lot of command over my changeup.”

When Steele is at his best, he’s able to get both swings-and-misses with his four-seam fastball and breaking balls, but also able to mix his sinker to get weak contact. The Cubs’ southpaw did both in his outing against Cincinnati, getting his first 12 outs of the game on either a strikeout or a ground ball.

He induced nine groundouts in the game as he used his sinker heavily and was able to avoid loud contact.

“Overall, it was a tremendous outing for him,” interim manager Andy Green said after the win. Cruised through the first five [and] faced maybe one batter pass the minimum at that point in time.”

But he showed something for the first time as a starter in his start against the Reds. While the stuff was crisp, it was his efficiency that stood out. Being able to get soft contact early in counts over his first few innings allowed him to conserve his pitch count and pitch into the sixth inning for the first time this season.

Even after taking a sharp line drive off the left triceps in the third inning, he continued to keep his rhythm. But after five strong innings, which saw him command all of his pitches, Steele ran into trouble in the sixth and quickly lost command of the strike zone.

He walked the first batter of the inning before a Nick Castellanos double put runners on second and third with no outs. He’d plunk the next two batters to bring in a run and make it a 3-1 game before Green went to the bullpen.

“I think I was just kind of forcing some things in that last inning,” Steele said. “Nothing that I can’t fix. Just go back to the drawing board, make some adjustments and just go from there.”

The Reds would tie the game at 3 later in the inning, closing the book on Steele’s afternoon. He allowed three earned runs on four hits over his five-plus innings in the game. He walked two batters, struck out four and two hit batters.

“I think it was 64 pitches through five innings. [He was] carving people up. Went out there in the sixth and it just wasn’t as clean. It was his first time towing the rubber in a big league game in the sixth inning and it starts to catch up to some guys sometimes.

“But the beauty of that is it’s a tremendous learning experience for him and he pitched efficiently enough to get to that sixth inning with hardly being taxed other than taking that line drive [off the arm].”

Steele has followed up a rough August with two promising starts in September. Going into his final starts of the season, Steele wants to keep building on the two steps forward.

“At some point in my career, I think it’d be really cool to [throw] a complete game,” he said. “So I mean, that’s where my head’s at. I want to go deeper into games. I want to be that starting pitcher that everybody can rely on every time I take the mound. They can expect consistency. I want to be known for my consistency.”

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