After becoming a proud father Monday, Cubs left-hander Justin Steele is looking forward to watching infant son Beau grow.
As for Steele’s development with the Cubs this season, there is some growth he can stand to benefit from in the second half.
Specifically, Steele is seeking to gain more consistency against right-handed hitters.
‘‘That’s my main focus,’’ said Steele, who concluded his first half with a loss Wednesday to the Orioles.
The 7-1 score didn’t exactly reflect Steele’s performance, but it mirrored his snippets of success offset by his struggles — particularly against right-handed hitters.
His improvement against right-handers will be one of the measuring sticks the Cubs will use to assess his progress as a starting pitcher for the future. Steele, 27, is only 16⅓ innings away from matching his professional high in innings (98‰) set in 2017 at Single-A Myrtle Beach.
Right-handers are batting .243 against Steele — 24 points lower than left-handers — but their slugging percentage (.358) is considerably higher than that of lefties (.293).
Steele, like right-hander Keegan Thompson, will be watched closely because of their increased workload. That will be a delicate matter, considering left-hander Wade Miley has been sidelined for most of the season because of a strained pitching shoulder and right-hander Kyle Hendricks might be sidelined through August because of a similar ailment.
Steele’s mission, however, appears more narrow and essential because of the abundance of right-handed batters he faces and his lack of a dominating fastball.
Nevertheless, Steele isn’t afraid to pitch inside to right-handers, and improved control can help him achieve that mission.
‘‘Just pitching up and down and popping [the fastball] away, as well, with the sinker and the changeup off of it,’’ Steele said. ‘‘There’s always room for improvement.’’
Steele retired the final 11 Orioles he faced and pitched at least six innings for the third consecutive time and for the fifth time in his last eight starts.
But that came well after he failed to put away right-handed hitter Ryan Mountcastle in an 11-pitch at-bat that resulted in a single and set up a three-run first the Cubs never recovered from.
Steele was admittedly rusty after eight days between starts because of the birth of his son, but he understands there is no room for error. The four runs he allowed in the first two innings equaled what he had allowed in the first two innings of his previous 16 starts.
‘‘It’s always important to be consistent,’’ Steele said. ‘‘It’s important to get better with each start and learn, as well as pay attention to the guys you’re facing.’’
There have been other starts, such as his seven-inning outing June 13 against the Padres, in which Steele was able to locate his fastball effectively and allowed only one run.
In a sport that has put an increasingly larger premium on power, Steele has adjusted nicely. He has allowed only five home runs this season, seven fewer than he allowed in 57 innings in 2021.
Steele’s strikeout rate has dipped from 23.8% in 2021 to 21.9%, but manager David Ross has been pleased with the soft contact Steele has induced from right-handers by attacking them with his fastball and slider aimed at their back foot.
‘‘When he’s in the strike zone and attacking the zone, he’s really hard to hit,’’ Ross said.