‘Moving underwater’: Cubs’ Justin Steele fights control issues vs. Padres

In three innings, he allowed five walks — including three in a row in the second inning — and four hits. He still managed to limit the Padres to one run.

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Justin Steele pitches during a Cubs spring training game.

Justin Steele pitches during a Cubs spring training game.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — Justin Steele has never issued five walks in a major-league game. So the five he threw against the Padres on Sunday were a clear indication that he was feeling off.

“I just felt like I was moving underwater for most of the day,” Steele said after coming out of the Cubs’ 5-2 walk-off win. “I was constantly having to make adjustments out there, so that’s one of those outings I was dealing with today. But moving forward, just got to make sure I’m firing on all -cylinders.”

Steele’s start ended after three innings. Along with those five walks — including three in a row in the second inning — he allowed four hits. Still, he managed to limit the Padres to one run.

“That’s definitely a bright side of it,” Steele said of battling through without his best stuff.

Steele said he went to the bullpen after he was pulled to build up his pitch count to his target of 80-85. He hopes to grow his count to 90-100 by the time the season begins. He’s lined up to make one more spring-training start.

Steele didn’t seem to believe his control issues were part of any larger concern.

“Just because you have one day where you’re not feeling your best, there’s no reason to change what I’ve been doing for so long,” he said of his plan for between starts.

Thomson’s evolving role

Right-hander Keegan Thompson took the mound in the fifth inning, three days after his last outing. That was the shortest rest he’d had between outings this spring.

He struck out Brandon Dixon and Jose Azocar, gave up a single to Rougned Odor, walked Tim Lopes and induced a flyout from Matthew Batten in a scoreless inning. His fastball was sitting at 90-91 mph, and he touched 92.

His velocity is down from last season, when his fastball averaged 93.5 mph. Thompson has been working this spring to get back to generating more power from his legs. Both he and the team have downplayed any potential injury concern.

“That’s just spring training for some people,” bullpen coach Chris Young said. “Some guys come in ready to roll, and some guys come in just needing a little bit of work to find their tempo and find their rhythm. I think he just falls into that.”

Last season, Thompson was dominant in a multiple-inning role. But the Cubs envision him throwing both single and multiple innings this year.

Welcome back, Nelson

Cubs outfielder Nelson Velazquez returned to camp from the World Baseball Classic. He and Team Puerto Rico were eliminated in the quarterfinals, falling to Team Mexico 5-4 on Friday.

Velazquez played the last three innings Sunday. He stepped up to the plate with two runners on and no outs in the ninth and blasted a three-run, walk-off homer over the left-field fence.


• The Cubs scored most of their runs via the long ball. Before Nelson Vela-zquez’s three-run walk-off, catcher Yan Gomes launched a solo shot in the fourth inning, tying Edwin Rios for the team lead with three. Gomes also hit an RBI single in the sixth.

Nico Hoerner hit his second triple of the spring, a line drive that landed just inside the left-field line.

• Padres catcher Austin Nola exited the game after Cubs reliever Michael Fulmer hit him with a runaway pitch to the face. Nola left the field sitting on a golf cart with a towel held to his nose.

On deck: Day off Monday. The Cubs visit the Royals on Tuesday, 8:05 p.m., Surprise, Marquee, 670-AM, Jameson Taillon vs. Jordan Lyles.

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