Before the Reds blew the game open in late innings, Cincinnati was a second test for a new Cubs starting pitcher.
“I thought he was pretty impressive,” Cubs manager David Ross said of Justin Steele after a 14-5 loss at Cincinnati. “I thought he had electric stuff. I thought he moved the fastball around really well. Pitched out of some jams, made pitches when he had to.”
The Cubs logged their 12th straight loss on Monday, a season high. A trade deadline selloff was going to come with casualties in the win/loss column.
“My guess is that we'll find some interesting things over the next two months,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said last week.
The last six weeks of the season give the Cubs a chance to evaluate their young pitching in a major-league environment. Steele, who debuted earlier this season as a reliever, has the opportunity to make his case for a starting role.
In his first two major-league starts, Steele has already shown different sides to his game.
In his Cubs rotation debut, Steele held the Brewers to three runs through five innings last week, despite not having a feel for his slider.
Fast forward to Monday, when Steele began to show what his full arsenal – he mostly relied on his fastball and slider as a reliever — can look like when his slider is on.
“Anytime you have a pitch working, it's going make your other pitches better,” Steele said after the game, “because it's going to get their timing off on the other pitches. But I was very pleased my slider today on. There were some good curveballs as well, but I has a little more feel for my slider, so I was throwing it a little bit more.”
Steele allowed two runs, both on leadoff hitter Jonathan India’s fourth-inning homer, in four innings Monday. But they were high-intensity innings.
The third was the best example. Steele gave up back-to-back singles to lead off the frame, putting runners on first and third with no outs. Then, he struck out Kyle Farmer and Eugenio Suarez, and induced a fly out from Aristides Aquino to get out of the inning unscathed.
“In those situations, you have to be a little finer with your pitches, locate a little bit better,” Steele said. “Just some gritty moments you kind of have to bite down and get after it.”
“I'm not going say I like those moments,” Steele continued, “but I like getting out of those moments.”