How the Cubs’ veteran lefties have influenced Justin Steele

A week ago, the lefties in the Cubs’ rotation outnumbered the right-handers. But the Cubs put Wade Miley on the IL, and Drew Smyly left his last start early with an injury.

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Cubs lefty Justin Steele allowed three runs in five innings against the Brewers on Tuesday.

Cubs lefty Justin Steele allowed three runs in five innings against the Brewers on Tuesday.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Take it from Drew Smyly: “All lefties kind of stick together and gravitate towards each other. I don’t know why. Everyone calls us weird. But there’s some secret recognition lefty to lefty.”

A week ago, the lefties in the Cubs’ starting rotation outnumbered the right-handers. On Tuesday, when southpaw Justin Steele took the mound in an 8-7 victory over the Brewers, he was the only healthy left-handed starter left. 

Wade Miley had gone on the 15-day IL over the weekend with what the Cubs called a left shoulder strain. Smyly left the second game of a doubleheader Monday with right oblique soreness. Manager David Ross said the team would determine next steps for Smyly after it got back imaging on the injury. 

Steele, in a way, is a product of both the veteran lefties he shared a rotation with.

Smyly, who signed with the Cubs this spring, remembers seeing on TV that Steele was in the big-leagues last year and thinking, “I’m glad he made it.”

They’d rehabbed from Tommy John surgery together in 2018. Steele, 22 at the time, had played as high as Single-A. Smyly was already established in the majors and was only temporarily with the Cubs, whom he wouldn’t suit up for until 2021. 

“I remember his rehab went a whole lot smoother than mine,” Smyly said. “I think maybe because he was younger, I don’t know. Everyone’s different. . . . My elbow hurt every day of the rehab process. And every day he’d come in and just be throwing super hard and just feeling great, brand new. I was like, ‘Why is it like this for me?’ ”

Smyly laughs about it now. 

“He was pretty mature back then,” Smyly said. “He was young, but personality-wise, he seems very similar [to now.] He was funny, very laid back and confident. But I remember I never wanted to play catch with him. Because he was hard to catch, he threw it really hard.”

Miley and Steele don’t go back as far, only becoming teammates when Miley signed with the Cubs in December. But their hometowns (Hammond, Louisiana and Lucedale, Mississippi) are only about a 2½ hour drive apart, which gave them “some common ground,” as Steele put it.

“His stuff’s good,” Miley said last week, adding how much he has enjoyed watching Steele’s progress this season. “He does throw hard, he has all the nasty stuff, and now he’s learning how to use it. And I’m excited for that kid’s future because I think he’s got a really bright outlook ahead of him.”

Early in the season, Steele was fighting a tendency to rush to the plate in his delivery. Then Miley gave him the cue that clicked for him: Keep your back ear over the rubber. 

He told Steele that was the cue he had used early in his career when he had the same issue. 

“Different things click with different players,” Steele said. “That’s why baseball is so weird. Because you take [two guys who are] doing the same thing wrong, you tell them the same cue to fix it. It’ll work for one, but you’ve got to say something different for the other one. That’s just what’s great about this game.”

Consistency will be a big focus in Steele’s development. In two starts against the Diamondbacks, Steele recorded a combined 19 strikeouts. The next week at Cincinnati, he gave up seven runs in two innings. 

On Tuesday, he held the Brewers to three runs through five innings, despite walking four batters.

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