MILWAUKEE — Almost everything about Justin Steele and baseball is about what comes next — his potential as a middle-of-the-rotation big-league starter, whether he can deliver on that promise by next season, how much say he’ll have in the Cubs’ next run at the postseason.
But whatever happens next, Steele and his bat will always have Milwaukee.
“That was really cool,” said Steele, the rookie left-hander who now has a batting average, thanks to a sharp, first-pitch single to centerfield leading off the third inning Saturday night against the Brewers’ best pitcher this season, Corbin Burnes.
“I’ve really enjoyed hitting my whole, entire life, really loved it growing up, in high school and stuff,” Steele said. “And getting a hit in the big leagues was always kind of the thing I wanted to accomplish.”
He has had precious few opportunities — now 1-for-9 — since debuting April 12 as a reliever for the Cubs. And with pitchers’ at-bats looking like endangered species ahead of the next collective bargaining agreement, he may have had even fewer chances left.
“If they [add] the DH next year [to the National League], I can always say I have a big-league hit,” Steele said. “So I was really excited to do that, especially off somebody like Corbin Burnes. Everybody sees the year he’s having. He’s unbelievable.”
In fact, Steele’s hit off Burnes was not only the first of the game for the Cubs but the first off Burnes since Sept. 5 — Saturday’s game the first for Burnes since he threw the first eight innings of a combined Brewers no-hitter against Cleveland.
Burnes, one of the top two or three Cy Young contenders in the NL, had faced 36 batters without allowing a hit until Steele, striking out 19 of them.
“I just kind of went up there and ambushed him on the first pitch,” Steele said of the 96-mph heater. “It was a great experience.”
Next up for Steele is fine-tuning the starting-pitching end of his game, which continues to be a work in progress after walking four and giving up a pair of solo homers in his four-inning start Saturday — a 6-4 loss that allowed the Brewers to clinch a playoff berth.
He’s 1-3 with a 5.12 ERA and 1.547 WHIP in seven starts, averaging less than 4 2/3 innings per start.
But whatever happens next with that pitching thing, Steele always has Saturday night’s swing off the Brewers’ All-Star — not to mention the baseball.
“It’s already in a case in my locker with a [authentication] stamp on it,” he said. “I’m going to hold onto that one.”