Amid this Cubs rebuild, the development of their young starting pitchers is taking center stage this season as they look to see what they have in their rotation going forward.
And for all the ebbs and flows of player development, Justin Steele has stood out, even on a day he allowed his second-most runs this season.
Steele was charged with six runs (five earned) and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, including a pair of home runs. He struck out eight with no walks.
His final line is deceiving as the Cubs committed three errors behind him and four on a shaky afternoon defensively. That includes back-to-back two-out errors in the fifth inning that brought a run home for Pittsburgh.
“We didn’t give him any breaks, didn’t help out behind him,” manager David Ross told reporters after the game, an 8-7 extra-inning Pirates win. “Cost him a lot of runs.”
The Cubs also missed a chance to turn a double play in the third, when Jonathan Villar had trouble getting a throw from Nico Hoerner out of his glove.
Steele allowed one of his two homers to the next batter, Ke’Bryan Hayes.
The outing came on the heels of a promising stretch for the southpaw. Entering the day, he held a 2.63 ERA in 24 innings over his last four starts, following since a seven-run clunker against the Reds last month.
That includes consecutive seven-inning, one-run outings to open June.
“With most of my outings I felt really good afterwards,” Steele said after his start vs. the Braves last weekend. “I obviously had the one outing in Cincinnati, where I give up seven runs, but those outings are gonna happen.”
Steele and Keegan Thompson’s continued developments are chief among the most important storylines for the Cubs this season.
Thompson, who had a pair of rough outings on the Cubs’ East Coast road trip earlier this month, has allowed one run total over his last two starts. He went six innings each time.
“Baseball is a long season,” Steele added after his start vs. Atlanta. “You’re gonna have great outings, you're gonna have bad outings.
“I’m happy with how I’ve pitched over the course of the whole season. Just got to keep learning from each outing and keep moving forward.”