Acting manager Andy Green said Monday morning the Cubs were looking for Justin Steele to build off his last outing — in which he shutout the Twins for five innings.
The lefty answered the bell Monday against the Reds, a 4-3 Cubs win.
Steele pitched into the sixth inning for the first time as a big-league starting pitcher. In his five-plus innings, he was charged with three runs on four hits.
“Overall, it was a tremendous outing for him,” Green said.
The final line that doesn’t tell the full story.
Steele dominated the first five innings, keeping Cincinnati off the board while allowing three hits and a walk. Every out he recorded in the first four innings came via a strikeout or groundball.
He threw 64 pitches through five, a promising sign as he’s struggled with efficiency at times in his first four starts in the big leagues.
He wasn’t as sharp in the sixth, allowing the first four batters to reach on a walk, double and back-to-back hit batters — the second forcing in a run and ending his afternoon.
“It was his first time toeing the rubber in a big-league game in the sixth inning, and it starts to catch up to some guys sometimes,” Green said. “But the beauty of that is it's a tremendous learning experience for him.”
Indeed. Steele said after the outing he was forcing pitches in the sixth.
“I was up there thinking like, ‘Make this pitch. Do this. Hit somebody with a slider,’” Steele said. “I'm trying to make it nastier than I need to. Just throw a good one rather than forcing and trying to make it more nasty than it needs to be.”
“I could have kept doing what I was doing the first five and been just fine,” he added. “I was getting weak contact for the most part, besides the ball that smoked me.”
Steele took a Nick Castellanos comebacker with a 107.4 mph exit velocity off the left triceps in the third. Green and a trainer came out to check on him, and Green said the Cubs were closely monitoring him afterwards.
“He felt fine, kept denying feeling anything, and there wasn't any real sign of ill effect," Green said. "And through the sixth inning, and right now, he says he still feels fine and he's good."
Said Steele: "It’ll be a nice little strawberry tomorrow. I felt fine and wanted to keep competing, and I'm glad they gave me an opportunity to.”
Monday was a promising step in Steele's development as a big-league starting pitcher.
“He pitched efficiently enough to get to that sixth inning while hardly being taxed, other than taking that line drive," Green said.
"So I think all in all, it was a tremendous outing for him with a lot of real big positive signs, some big punchouts and some weak early contact that kept him pitch efficient.
"We're really encouraged by what we saw today."
With a handful of starts left this season, Steele has a few goals in mind as he heads into 2022 as a possible rotation candidate.
"Be more efficient, be more effective. Pitch deeper into games," he said. "At some point in my career, I think it'd be really cool to throw a complete game.
"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, that they can expect consistency."