Cubs’ Justin Steele pitches six scoreless innings in first start of season

Steele allowed three hits, struck out eight and walked one.

SHARE Cubs’ Justin Steele pitches six scoreless innings in first start of season
Cubs starter Justin Steele allowed three hits and struck out eight in six innings Saturday against the Brewers.

Cubs starter Justin Steele allowed three hits and struck out eight in six innings Saturday against the Brewers.

Quinn Harris/AP

Cubs left-hander Justin Steele admitted he had the first-start jitters, as evidenced by throwing his first five pitches for balls and nearly sailing his 11th pitch to the backstop.

But Steele, who is in his second season as a full-time starter, settled down to post one of his most impressive outings. Steele, with the help of some dazzling defense by shortstop Dansby Swanson, worked out of a first-inning jam and limited the Brewers to three hits while striking out eight in six innings.

‘‘That’s as good as we’ve seen him — outside of the first inning,’’ manager David Ross said.

After throwing only nine of his first 19 pitches for strikes, Steele threw his four-seam fastball and slider effectively. After allowing a double to rookie Joey Wiemer in the third, Steele retired 11 of the final 12 batters he faced. The only exception was an infield hit to Owen Miller.

‘‘I definitely found a rhythm,’’ Steele said.

Much of Steele’s development from the middle of last season to now stemmed from his ability to attack the low, inside corner to right-handed batters. That continued, and he kept left-handed hitters Christian Yelich and Rowdy Tellez off-balance with a well-located breaking pitch.

‘‘I used to hit, as well,’’ Steele said. ‘‘And being a left-handed hitter, I know how hard it is to hit a left-handed pitcher. If you can throw some good breaking balls toward a lefty, I know how hard it is to stay in there and go with it the other way.’’

Happ’s comeback

After striking out twice on changeups from Brewers right-hander Brandon Woodruff, left fielder Ian Happ gained a measure of revenge by smacking a home run on a 96 mph fastball to cap a nine-pitch at-bat that snapped a scoreless tie in the sixth.

‘‘I was trying to fight off some of those pitches, and he gave me something I can handle,’’ Happ said. ‘‘That’s the interesting part of this game. . . . I felt like the first two at-bats, I was a little passive. Then I got aggressive in that third at-bat.

‘‘It keeps you going, especially when it’s 35 degrees and the wind is blowing 40 mph.’’

Actually, the game-time temperature was 39 degrees with gusts of 23 mph. That was a degree warmer and a mph slower than on April 14, 2018, against the Braves.

This and that

Swanson had his second three-hit game, and his six hits are the most for a player in his first two games with the Cubs since Emilio Bonifacio had nine in the first two games of 2014. Swanson also made a diving stop and made an accurate, three-hop throw to retire William Contreras in the fourth.

• Right fielder Seiya Suzuki, who is sidelined with a strained left oblique, will start taking batting practice this week in Arizona, a team spokesperson said.

• Left-hander Brandon Hughes (inflammation in left knee) is scheduled to throw live batting practice Sunday. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks (inflammation in right shoulder) threw a bullpen session Friday with the expectation he might face batters in his next assignment.

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