Cubs starter Justin Steele continues to impress

The lefty has a 1.47 ERA in his last nine starts since June 29.

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Justin Steele

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele throws against the Milwaukee Brewers during the first inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

In a span of nearly two months, left-hander Justin Steele has developed a knack for being adaptable and dominant.

Since heeding the advice from former Cubs great Jon Lester, Steele has pounded the inside part of the strike zone to right-handers with greater success with only two primary pitches. 

At the same time, Steele has been able to exploit the weaknesses of opposing offenses — whether it’s inducing soft contact or accumulating strikeouts.

Steele displayed his dominance Sunday by striking out seven of the first 10 batters he faced and had six innings of two-hit ball. 

Although the bullpen surrendered five runs in the final three innings of a 5-2 loss to the Brewers that snapped a five-game winning streak, the Cubs can feel more encouraged by the continued development of Steele and his eagerness to improve.

“From where he’s come from early in the season, it just feels like you’re getting that performance every time he steps foot on the mound, all the way around,” manager David Ross said.

Steele has posted a 1.47 ERA in his last nine starts since June 29. That occurred after one of his roughest starts, when he was tagged for six runs in a loss at Pittsburgh.

That improvement started three weeks after Lester mentioned to Ross that Steele would benefit from throwing his fastball and slider inside more frequently to right-handers to jam them and/or open up the outer portion of the strike zone. 

Ross relayed Lester’s tips to Steele, and Steele made sure to thank Lester during a pregame visit Sunday.

“I told him I appreciated him reaching out to Ross earlier in season,” Steele said of Lester, who visited Wrigley Field for the first time since retiring after the 2021 season. “He didn’t have to do that, so it was greatly appreciated.”

In Steele’s last six starts, he has posted an 0.86 ERA — lowest in the majors during that stretch. He has had three starts of at least nine strikeouts during that span.

Steele generated 15 swings-and-misses, including 10 on his four-seam fastball, among his 89 pitches.

Steele threw only seven sinkers and has experimented in the past with a curve and changeup that he hopes to develop in the future. But Ross seems content with the current repertoire, for now.

“I don’t want to complicate it, either,” Ross said. “The guy we got right now is pretty darn good. If this is it, I’ll take this spot right here. If he develops more pitches, fine. I don’t think you have to develop five pitches to be dominant.”

Steele, 27, a fourth-round pick of the Cubs in 2014, had much of his early development stunted by injuries. But he has learned to improve his physique and stamina through trial and error.

He praised the Cubs’ training staff for throwing a team-high 113‰ innings without any signs of fatigue, and he added extra weight on his 6-2, 205-pound frame entering spring training to prepare for the rigors of a full major-league season.

“It’s about knowing your body,” said Steele, adding that his family is “active and skinny” and doesn’t maintain weight.

“I don’t want to be somewhere when I lose weight I risk injury. Everyone is different.”

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