PHOENIX — The Cubs’ probable pitching list has been littered with TBDs the last week, but they filled in the latest.
Left-hander Justin Steele is scheduled to start in the series finale Sunday against the Diamondbacks. Steele last pitched a week ago, leaving the game after the fourth inning with a sore left thumb.
“We try not to wait too long to get these guys in but also [wanted to] make sure his thumb felt good,” manager David Ross said Saturday.
Too many days between starts means a risk of “rust,” as Ross put it. He pointed to Drew Smyly’s start last week against the Dodgers that was pushed back when he went on the bereavement list.
Smyly allowed three runs, two earned, in 4⅓ innings against the Dodgers. Then on Friday at Arizona, with five days between starts, he threw six innings for the first time this season.
Steele started feeling the soreness throwing his slider in the fourth inning of his start against the Dodgers. He said he threw that pitch in his bullpen session Friday, and it didn’t give him any issues.
“He did a really nice job his last start against a really good team until that thumb stuff popped up,” Ross said. “So continue to build off that, pound the strike zone, no free passes. Knowing how to handle those moments is really important for his development and to keep getting better.”
Veteran lefty Wade Miley was the other option to start Sunday after making his season debut Tuesday.
The Cubs have yet to announce their probable starters for their next series, at home against the Pirates.
They still don’t have a timeline for the return of right-hander Marcus Stroman or reliever David Robertson. Both are on the injured list without a designation, which usually means a COVID-related move.
“I know they’re playing catch together,” Ross said, “so I think they’re feeling a bit better.”
‘I think he’ll come back strong’
The Cubs are expecting a long absence for 2020 first-round draft pick Ed Howard, who suffered a serious hip injury while trying to avoid a tag running to first base earlier this week.
“Obviously, there’s never good timing for an injury like that,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “But it’s a shame. He worked so incredibly hard this winter; he got stronger than anyone at our camp this winter. And you look at his exit velocities, he brought his strikeout rate down and he’s been playing his typical good defense. It’s a shame that his season’s going to be cut short.”
Howard, the Cubs’ No. 14 prospect, according to mlb.com, was on a hot streak before the injury, batting .333 in his last nine games for High-A South Bend.
“But he’ll work hard, and the attitude has been really good despite the fact that he’s really bummed out about the injury,” Hoyer said. “I think he’ll come back strong.”
Nuts and bolts
Shortstop Nico Hoerner (sprained right ankle) “tested the waters,” taking some easy ground balls in the outfield before the game. Outfielder Seiya Suzuki returned to the starting lineup after tweaking his ankle on a base Monday in San Diego. He pinch-hit once between the injury and Saturday.