Cubs pitcher Justin Steele starts 2022 on encouraging note

Steele threw five scoreless innings in the Cubs’ 9-0 win over Milwaukee.

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David Robertson and Willson Contreras celebrate the Cubs’ 5-4 win Thursday.

AP Photos

Because of the shortened spring training, Justin Steele and the rest of the Cubs’ pitchers are probably two weeks behind where they’d normally be. On Saturday, it was hard to tell with Steele, who threw five scoreless innings in his first start of 2022.

“It felt really good,” Steele said. “My four-seam [fastball] and my slider, coming into this outing, I really wanted to have honed, and I just felt really good as far as execution with my pitches.”

Steele moved to the rotation last August and could be a key piece of the Cubs’ future.

“We need him to be good for us to have success,” manager David Ross said before the game. “He’s a big part of our future and success. I’ve definitely seen a maturity of still working through some things.”

The offensive approach

Besides getting hit by pitches, the Cubs found ways to get on base and score against the Brewers and starter Brandon Woodruff. They drew seven walks and set the tone in a three-run first when Woodruff threw 40 pitches.

“Some really good pitchers we’ve faced to start off,” Ross said. “Guys are staying committed to their approach in their zone, and I think good things happen because of that.”

Seiya Suzuki had a hit and drove in three runs. Before leaving the game, Ian Happ got two hits and scored three times.

“You’ve got to put together some at-bats like we did against Woodruff to kind of get to the end of his rope and really force him to throw a bunch of pitches,” Happ said.

Bullpen roles

Having a defined closer makes things easier for a manager, but that’s not the priority for Ross. Whether it’s through an established ninth-inning guy or whoever fits the matchup, Ross is looking for one thing.

“I tell all the relievers I just like outs,” Ross said. “I’ll try to set people up for the right pockets, but if you have somebody you can establish in the ninth, then it kind of works its way backward to get to that spot. It is easier to work that way, from my seat, but not a necessity.”

The first save chance this season went to David Robertson, who finished the Cubs’ 5-4 win Thursday. Robertson, like the rest of the bullpen, will have to be flexible as Ross goes with a committee approach. And if somebody stands out from the group, they won’t necessarily get the ninth.

“If the biggest moment, the biggest pocket, is in the eighth, and David lines up the best to face these three, four hitters, then I’m going to bring him in the eighth and try to lock that down,” Ross said. “I think it’s like leveraging the whole situation of the game. That’s the most important part.”

Health news

Shortstop Andrelton Simmons (right shoulder inflammation) is continuing a throwing program in Arizona. Left-hander Wade Miley (left elbow inflammation) is playing catch, and right-hander Alec Mills (lower back strain) threw a light bullpen session Thursday and was expected to do so again this weekend.

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