When the Cubs built their championship core, they chose to build around a group of homegrown position players and filled their rotation needs via trades and free agency. Because of that, one of their challenges in recent years has been developing homegrown starting pitching.
But the Cubs have moved on from their World Series core, and it’s their homegrown pitching that might help expedite their rebuild as they enter the next phase.
Left-hander Justin Steele burst onto the scene this season as a member of the Cubs’ bullpen and, after impressing as a reliever, forced his way into the team’s rotation plans.
‘‘Getting a lefty in the rotation is fun,’’ pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. ‘‘Get some new weapons and some new scouting reports. . . . For him in particular, I think he’s done everything he needed to do to kind of show us his ability to be a starter and get stretched out.’’
Steele took the mound for the first time as a starter in the big leagues Tuesday against the Brewers and began his path to what the Cubs hope is a spot in their future rotation.
‘‘It means the world to me to get out there and start for the Chicago Cubs,’’ Steele said after the Cubs’ 4-2 loss in Game 1 of a split doubleheader. ‘‘Something I’ve been dreaming of my whole entire life. When it’s finally here and it’s happening, it’s just a true blessing.’’
Steele didn’t look overwhelmed by the moment, showing the same poise that made him one of manager David Ross’ go-to guys in the bullpen earlier in the season.
He was thrown into the fire against the first-place Brewers and quickly got into a rhythm, inducing seven grounders (including an infield hit) in the first and second innings and cruising through his first three innings.
‘‘I was calm and composed,’’ Steele said. ‘‘I felt really good out there. Felt good to be back at Wrigley and pitching again.’’
But Steele hit a snag in the fourth, allowing a home run to Willy Adames, a double to Eduardo Escobar and two-run homer to Avisail Garcia before getting his first out of the inning.
Still, he was able to get himself back on track without any more damage and finished his outing with a scoreless fifth. Overall, he allowed three runs and five hits with a walk and a strikeout in five innings.
‘‘I thought he threw the ball really well,’’ Ross said. ‘‘He started off really nice. Got a lot of ground balls, a lot of movement on his pitches. . . . I think it was nice for him to settle in and still give us some outs. Things happen quick, especially here sometimes, and he settled in nicely and definitely locked back in. It was nice to see.’’
Steele and right-hander Adbert Alzolay present the Cubs with an interesting possibility for what their short- and long-term future looks like. The two 26-year-olds are entering their prime seasons and offer the Cubs a vision of homegrown arms in their rotation for years to come.
‘‘We [have been] pitching in the same rotation for four years in a row,’’ Alzolay said. ‘‘So for me, it’s gonna be special having one of my best friends next to me in the rotation.’’
Steele’s development at the major-league level will be something worth watching during the last two months of the season. Regardless of the results of his first start, his growth becomes a priority.
‘‘Each time I go out there, I’m trying to prove something,’’ Steele said. ‘‘I’m trying to show that I can be a part of this up-and-coming [group]. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to win championships. So I’m gonna do whatever I can to be a part of that, and each time I take the mound I’m going to show it.’’