PITTSBURGH — Cubs left-hander Justin Steele has described his first season in the big leagues as a learning experience, and after spending time in the bullpen and the rotation, he has had a chance to make an impact in a variety of ways.
And Steele saved his best for his last outing of 2021, tossing a career-high seven innings in the Cubs’ 9-0 victory Thursday against the Pirates.
“It was really good to end the season like that on a high note,” Steele said. “I felt like I really had command of all my pitches today. . . . I was just really executing all the pitches where I wanted to.”
There have been some highs and lows in his transition to the rotation, moments of brilliance to go along with starts that left a lot to be desired.
But Steele had everything in his arsenal working against the Pirates. Nothing fazed him, and after surrendering a single to start the game, he began to roll through Pittsburgh’s lineup.
Steele let his two-seam fastball do the heavy lifting, and it helped him get nine groundouts. It kept him out of trouble and kept his pitch count low.
There weren’t any high-stress pitches or long innings for Steele as the Cubs’ offense made sure he had a comfortable lead. The cushion allowed Steele to work efficiently, fill up the strike zone and get into a rhythm.
Steele also was able to put hitters away when he needed it. He had a career-high seven strikeouts.
“Really strong outing for him,” manager David Ross said. “I thought that fastball [was] commanded well. Nice to be able to pitch freely when you got that kind of run support from the offense. Did a really nice job tonight moving the ball in and out. I thought the breaking ball really stood out later in the counts.”
Steele could have gone back out for the eighth inning, but Ross decided to turn to the bullpen. He allowed only four hits and one walk.
He even had a single and scored a run in the Cubs’ six-run second inning.
Steele closes the book on his rookie year at 4-4 with a 4.26 ERA in 20 games (nine starts).
“It’s been a really good year,” Steele said. “It’s been really fun. A lot to build off of. A lot to work on in the offseason. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
It’s too early to say if Steele will be part of the team’s rotation plans next season. As the Cubs head into an offseason in which starting pitching will be a priority, showing he can get big-league hitters out as a starter and a reliever will be valuable in 2022.
“I’m going to leave that up to them,” he said. “I want to help this team win ballgames. That’s where I’m at. That’s my mentality. My eyes are on a World Series. I want to win a championship.
“If that’s in the bullpen, if that’s in the starting rotation, I’m gonna leave that up to the Cubs. They’re going to use me in the best way that they see fit. But, yeah, I’m gonna go out there and try to get outs. I’m here to compete.”