Cubs’ Justin Steele continues promising stretch in gutsy outing

Cubs’ Steele’s promising run continues in gusty outing originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The last thing a banged-up Cubs starting rotation and beleaguered pitching staff needed Monday against the Padres was a short outing from Justin Steele.

And, for a moment there, it seemed like that scenario was coming into play.

On his ninth pitch of the game, Steele took a comebacker off the pointer finger on his left hand that required the attention of manager David Ross and the team’s training staff.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Steele said of trying to barehand the ball.

The ball left a cut on Steele’s finger, on the same hand in which he was already dealing with a pre-existing blister on his middle finger heading into the start.

The training staff cut off the blister, which Steele said was not bothering him.

He stayed in the game and needed only two pitches to retire Padres sluggers Manny Machado and Luke Voit to end the first inning, but the Cubs got the bullpen up in case Steele would be unable to continue.

A bullpen that threw 20 innings across a three-game weekend sweep to the Yankees, with Wade Miley exiting Friday’s game due to injury after three innings and Keegan Thompson only getting two outs Sunday.

Steele went down to the batting cage after the first and threw a few balls into a net to test the cut, deeming the pain manageable enough to keep pitching.

Good thing, too. He delivered one of his best outings of the season, tying a career high by tossing seven innings while holding San Diego to a run on six hits with no walks. The Padres rallied off the Cubs bullpen to win 4-1.

Steele said the finger is swollen but he does not expect it to be an issue going forward.

“I’m sure the training staff will take a look at it,” he said. “But as far as I’m concerned, I’m fine.”

Steele said regardless of the rotation’s status, he felt like he had his best stuff going into the game and wanted to go out and compete.

The fact he was able to stay in the game and perform the way he did was exactly what the Cubs needed, though.

“We were fixing up to go to the pen in the second inning,” Ross said. “That’s what stands out to me, and we would have been short. We would have been in a tough spot.

“[Steele] did a phenomenal job of taking the ball and going out there and kind of figuring it out. ”

Miley returned from the IL Friday only to land back there with the same shoulder issue he was previously dealing with. Marcus Stroman went on the IL hours before that with shoulder inflammation.

Kyle Hendricks, Tuesday’s probable starter, last pitched June 1 after getting a prescribed break to manage shoulder fatigue. Drew Smyly is on the IL with an oblique injury.

In a rebuilding season for the Cubs, whether Steele and Thompson develop into viable big-league starters are among the most important storylines.

Over his last seven starts (since the beginning of May), Steele has a 3.75 ERA in 36 innings.

If you take out a seven-run, two-inning clunker against the Reds, those numbers are 2.12 ERA in 34 innings

Steele went toe-to-toe with ex-Cubs ace Yu Darvish Monday, also becoming the first Cubs pitcher to throw seven-plus innings and allow one earned run or fewer in consecutive starts since Darvish (Aug. 5-13, 2020).

“We might need to smash him in the finger a couple of times before he starts,” Ross joked. “That was impressive.”

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