Justin Steele shows growth in ‘gritty moments’ in second start for Cubs

Steele got himself out of trouble twice in the Cubs’ 14-5 loss Monday to the Reds. It was their 12th defeat in a row, two short of the franchise record.

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Cubs’ Justin Steele throws during the first inning Monday against the Reds.

Cubs’ Justin Steele throws during the first inning Monday against the Reds.

Aaron Doster/AP

CINCINNATI — Each start left-hander Justin Steele makes for the rest of the season will be a learning experience. And after getting his debut in the rotation out of the way last week against the Brewers, his journey as a starter has begun.

Steele’s first start offered a look at what the Cubs can expect from him. His start Monday against the Reds showed what adjustments he made as he continues to progress.

The biggest thing that stood out about Steele in the Cubs’ 14-5 loss — their 12th in a row, two short of the franchise record — was his ability to get himself out of bad situations. He got himself into some early trouble in the second and third innings but showed poise. He said it’s something his time in the bullpen really helped him with.

‘‘In those situations, you kind of have to be a little finer with your pitches, locate a little bit better,’’ Steele said. ‘‘It’s just some gritty moments. You kind of have to bite down and get after it. I’m not going to say I like those moments, but I like getting out of those moments. It feels good.’’

The Reds put pressure on Steele in the second by putting runners at second and third with one out. But Steele made an athletic play on a squeeze bunt back to the mound, scooping the ball with his glove to catcher Robinson Chirinos to get the out at the plate. He then closed the inning with a soft lineout.

Steele worked the same magic in the third after allowing the first two batters to reach on base hits, putting runners at the corners with no outs. He responded with back-to-back strikeouts of Kyle Farmer and Eugenio Suarez before getting Aristides Aquino to fly out to end the inning.

The Reds, however, finally got to Steele in the fourth. He walked the leadoff hitter before yielding a long two-run home run to Jonathan India to give the Reds a 2-0 lead.

‘‘I thought he was pretty impressive,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘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. Really nice job getting out of some traffic there in the third.’’

Another thing that stood out from Steele’s outing was his stuff. He employed his full repertoire against the Reds, using his mix of pitches to his advantage.

Steele’s slider was one of his primary weapons when he was pitching out of the bullpen earlier this season, but he used it sparingly in his first start. He opted for the curveball instead.

Against the Reds, however, he found the slider again and looked comfortable throwing it in any count. Steele threw 28 sliders, getting six swings-and-misses on it.

‘‘It felt good to have the slider a little bit more tonight,’’ Steele said. ‘‘I was able to utilize it a lot more, got some more swings-and-misses with it. It felt good to get out there and have what I think is my better breaking ball at times.’’

Steele got 13 total swings-and-misses after getting only four in his first start. He allowed five hits in his four innings, but the only two runs against him came on India’s homer. He was lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth.

While Steele’s start was abbreviated because of several high-stress innings and a growing pitch count, there were several things to build on going forward.

‘‘There’s a few different things I need to look at,’’ he said. ‘‘But, I mean, other than that pitch [to India], I was happy with how I did.’’

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