Cubs pitcher Justin Steele starts 2022 on encouraging note

Because of the shortened spring training, Justin Steele and the rest of the Cubs’ pitchers are probably two weeks behind where they’d normally be at this point of the season. On Saturday, it was hard to tell with Steele, who threw five scoreless innings in his first start of 2022.

“It felt really good,” Steele said. “My four-seam [fastball] and my slider, coming into this outing, is something I really wanted to have honed in and I just felt really good as far as execution with my pitches.”

Steele moved to the rotation last August and could be a piece of the Cubs’ long-term future. Saturday was a good start for him this year.

“We need him to be good for us to have success,” manager David Ross said before the game. “He’s a big part of our future and success. I’ve definitely seen a maturity of still working through some things.”

The offensive approach
Besides getting hit by pitches, the Cubs offense found ways to get on base and score against Milwaukee and starter Brandon Woodruff. Cubs hitters drew seven walks total and set the tone in a three-run first when Woodruff threw 40 pitches.

“Some really good pitchers we’ve faced to start off,” Ross said. “Guys are staying committed to their approach in their zone and I think good things happen because of that.”

Seiya Suzuki had a hit and drove in three runs. Before leaving the game, Ian Happ got two hits and scored three times.

“You’ve got to put together some at-bats like we did against Woodruff to kind of get to the end of his rope and really force him to throw a bunch of pitches,” Happ said.

Bullpen roles
Having a defined closer makes things easier for a manager, but that’s not the priority for Ross. Whether it’s through an established ninth-inning guy or whoever fits the matchup, Ross is looking for one thing.

“I tell all the relievers I just like outs,” Ross said. “I’ll try to set people up for the right pockets, but if you have somebody you can establish in the ninth then it kind of works its way backward to get to that spot. It is easier to work that way, from my seat, but not a necessity.”

The first save chance this season went to veteran David Robertson, who successfully finished the Cubs’ 5-4 Opening Day win Thursday. Robertson, like the rest of the bullpen, will have to be flexible as Ross goes with a committee approach. And if somebody stands out from the group, they won’t necessarily get the ninth.

“If the biggest moment, the biggest pocket, is in the eighth and David lines up the best to face these three, four hitters, then I’m going to bring him in the eighth and try to lock that down,” Ross said. “I think it’s like leveraging the whole situation of the game. That’s the most important part.”

Health news
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons (right shoulder inflammation) is continuing a throwing program in Arizona. Pitcher Wade Miley (left elbow inflammation) is playing catch, and fellow pitcher Alec Mills (low back strain) threw a light bullpen Thursday and was expected to do so again this weekend.

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