Justin Steele continues to take steps forward in Cubs’ win over Reds

Steele allowed three runs in five-plus innings in the Cubs’ 4-3 victory Monday against Cincinnati. He pitched into the sixth inning for the first time this season.

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Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele delivers during the first inning of Monday’s game against the Reds.

Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele delivers during the first inning of Monday’s game against the Reds.

Matt Marton/AP

fter learning from his first handful of big-league starts, Cubs left-hander Justin Steele took a step forward in his last outing against the Twins. Steele featured his full repertoire and earned his first victory as a starter.

Coming off his best starting performance, Steele picked up right where he left off in the Cubs’ 4-3 victory Monday against the Reds. It was Steele’s second time facing Cincinnati as a starter, and he didn’t look fazed early.

“Similar to Minnesota, I had command of my two-seam and four-seam [fastball] for the most part of the first five innings,” Steele said. “Felt really good with my curveball, really good with my slider.Felt good with my changeup today, too. I didn’t throw any in the game, but warming up in the bullpen, I felt like I had a lot of command over my changeup.”

When Steele is at his best, he’s able to get swings and misses with his four-seam fastball and breaking balls and mix in his sinker to get weak contact. He did both against Cincinnati, getting his first 12 outs on strikeouts or ground balls.

He got nine groundouts as he used his sinker heavily and was able to avoid loud contact.

“Overall, it was a tremendous outing for him,” interim manager Andy Green said. ‘‘Cruised through the first five [and] faced maybe one batter past the minimum at that point.”

And he showed something for the first time as a starter. While his stuff was crisp, it was his efficiency that stood out. Being able to get soft contact early in counts the first few innings allowed him to conserve his pitch count and pitch into the sixth inning for the first time this season.

Even after taking a sharp line drive off his left triceps in the third inning, Steele continued to keep his rhythm. But he ran into trouble in the sixth and lost command of the strike zone.

He walked the first batter before Nick Castellanos’ double put runners on second and third with no outs. He plunked the next two batters to bring in a run and make it 3-1 before Green went to the bullpen.

“I think I was just kind of forcing some things in that last inning,” Steele said. “Nothing that I can’t fix. Just go back to the drawing board, make some adjustments and go from there.”

The Reds would tie the score at 3 later in the inning, closing the book on Steele’s afternoon. He allowed three runs and four hits in five-plus innings. He walked two, struck out four and hit two batters.

“I think it was 64 pitches through five innings,’’ Green said. ‘‘[He was] carving people up. Went out there in the sixth, and it just wasn’t as clean. It was his first time toeing the rubber in a big-league game in the sixth inning, and it starts to catch up to some guys sometimes.

“But the beauty of that is it’s a tremendous learning experience for him, and he pitched efficiently enough to get to that sixth inning hardly being taxed other than taking that line drive [off the arm].”

Steele has followed up a rough August with two promising starts in September. Going into his final starts of the season, he wants to keep building.

“At some point in my career, I think it’d be really cool to [throw] a complete game,” he said. “So, I mean, that’s where my head’s at. I want to go deeper into games. I want to be that starting pitcher that everybody can rely on every time I take the mound. They can expect consistency. I want to be known for my consistency.”

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