Justin Steele falters, Cubs’ offense vanishes in 9-0 loss to Reds

After Hunter Greene — who came in 0-4 with a 4.68 ERA — pitched six hitless innings, the Cubs didn’t get their first hit until Christopher Morel’s single off reliever Eduardo Salazar leading off the eighth inning. The Cubs were outhit 19-2.

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Justin Steele

Starting pitcher Justin Steele #35 of the Chicago Cubs leaves the game in the fourth inning after giving up five runs to the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field on May 26, 2023 in Chicago.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Though veterans Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly have boosted the Cubs’ rotation, it’s left-hander Justin Steele, 27, who better represents the hopes of a Cubs rebirth — a homegrown starter, drafted and developed by the organization, who has reached another level in each of his three seasons in the big leagues.

But it wasn’t his day Friday.

Steele, who came into the game against the Reds with a 6-1 record, a 2.20 ERA and eight quality starts in 10 outings, was hit hard early and often in a 9-0 loss before 31,946 fans at Wrigley Field. He allowed six runs and 10 hits in 3⅔ innings. One of the runs was unearned, but only because of Steele’s own error when he dropped a throw from first baseman Matt Mervis on Curt Casali’s sacrifice bunt. It was that kind of day for Steele — and the Cubs, who were shut out for the first time this season.

“It didn’t feel like his day today,” manager David Ross said. “I don’t know that I ever felt [the Reds] took any bad swings. Their swings were pretty aggressive, even the ones they fouled off or swung and missed. When they’re like that, you’ve got to get under the barrel. The slider is usually the one. For him, it just didn’t look sharp to me. You’re going to have days like that — he’s been so good for us.”

Steele allowed several sharply hit balls — including Spencer Steer’s RBI triple in the first inning (104.8 mph exit velocity), Steer’s single in the fourth (101.3) and Kevin Newman’s double in the fourth (103.6) — and saw his ERA rise to 2.77. But he wasn’t buying the notion that he just didn’t have it.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Steele said. “In the bullpen leading into the game, and even throughout the game, I felt like I had my stuff. I felt like I was executing pitches — similar to outings prior to this. I felt like I was commanding my four-seamer and making pitches, and [the Reds were] doing a good job of battling stuff off — the swing-and-miss pitches, fouling them off. Just give credit to the other team for doing what they were supposed to do.”

It was a day of mystifying performances in which the Cubs ended up being outhit 19-2 and were six outs from being no-hit. With Steele falling behind 2-0 in the first inning, 3-0 in the third and 6-0 in the fourth, the Cubs’ offense withered against Reds starter Hunter Greene.

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, Greene came in with an 0-4 record and 4.68 ERA. He had allowed 17 runs and 26 hits in 22 innings (6.95 ERA) over his previous four starts. But he held the Cubs hitless for six innings.

Greene struck out 11 batters, including Dansby Swanson twice. He was pulled after throwing 110 pitches. Reliever Eduardo Salazar retired the Cubs 1-2-3 in the seventh inning. But Christopher Morel singled sharply to center to break up the no-hitter. Miles Mastrobuoni singled one batter later for the Cubs’ other hit. Only two other Cubs reached base — Mike Tauchman walked with two outs in the first inning, and Ian Happ walked with two outs in the fourth.

“We got to some really deep counts consistently [against Greene],’’ Ross said, ‘‘and then he just blew some doors. That fastball riding 99 up was tough to get on top of. Guys worked the count pretty well early on. [We] just weren’t able to capitalize and win the at-bat.”

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