Cubs manager David Ross often talks about having guys he can trust in his bullpen. Now that a few arms from Opening Day are no longer in the mix, opportunities are opening up for relievers such as southpaw Justin Steele, who’s quickly starting to look like one of those guys.
Steele, 25, has turned heads in his first real stint in the big leagues and is winning over Ross in the process. He earned his first MLB victory Tuesday, pitching a scoreless ninth inning against the Dodgers.
Throwing in high-leverage situations at the major-league level can sometimes be a difficult adjustment, but Steele is showing he’s up for the challenge.
“Something my mother always told me growing up was whenever you get the butterflies, just make sure they fly in formation,” he said. “So that’s kind of what I was trying to do out there [Tuesday]. Obviously, it’s a high-intensity situation against the World Series champs, so controlling your emotions is very important in those situations, and to get out of it with a runner starting in scoring position felt very good.”
While Andrew Chafin is still the Cubs’ first left-handed option in the bullpen, Steele (1-0, 3.68 ERA in seven appearances) has gotten chances to show he can pitch in those spots. Not only does he have Ross’ attention, but also that of veteran teammates.
“I love what I’ve seen from Justin,” starter Jake Arrieta said. “He’s got mid-90s stuff. He can pitch to the top of the zone with a really nice fastball that’s got some cutting action on it and some good breaking stuff. Who knows what the future holds for him? If he ends up being a starter, I think he’s got the ability to do that.”
The Cubs have struggled to develop homegrown arms the last few years, but Steele and right-handers Keegan Thompson and Adbert Alzolay have all flashed potential early this season. Alzolay has a chance to be the best of the current group and already has made his mark on the rotation, giving the Cubs a glimpse of the future.
“It’s been something that has been a focus here of trying to be better,” Ross said. “I think that shows that we’re getting on the right track, and I think the front office, player development and the players themselves have all put in a lot of hard work on some things that they want to focus on.
“That’s the way good organizations are able to develop homegrown talent, whether it’s position players or pitching. And the fact we’ve had such superstars come up from a position-player standpoint, it’s nice to see the pitching [as well] — all the work that the player-development [staff] and scouts in the front office or the players are putting in from the pitching side.”