Cubs left-hander Justin Steele admittedly 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, in his second season as a full-time starter, settled down to post one of his most impressive starts. Steele, with the help from the dazzling defense of Dansby Swanson, worked out of a first-inning jam and limited to 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 19 pitches for strikes, Steele threw his four-seam fastball and slider effectively. Following a double to rookie Joey Wiemer, 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 stemmed from his ability to attack the low, inside corner to right-handed batters. That continued, as well as his ability to keep left-handed hitters Christian Yelich and Rowdy Tellez off-balance with a well-located breaking pitch.
“I used to hit as well, and being a left-handed hitter I know how hard it is to hit a left-handed pitcher,” Steele said. “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.”
After striking out twice on changeups from the Brewers’ hard-throwing Brandon Woodruff, 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. The individual within the team, the more that you can make those adjustments in game I felt like the first two at-bats I was a little passive and then got aggressive in that third at-bat.
It keeps you going through, especially when it’s 35 degrees and the wind is blowing 40 mph.”
Actually, the game time temperature was 39 with gusts from the northwest at 23 mph. That was one degree warming and one mph slower than the conditions on April 14, 2018, against the Braves.
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Swanson collected his second three-hit game, and his six hits in the first two games of his Cubs career are the most since Emilio Bonafacio 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, sidelined with an left oblique strain, will start taking batting practice in Arizona this week, a team spokesperson said.
- Left-handed reliever Brandon Hughes (left knee inflammation) is scheduled to throw live batting practice Sunday. Pitcher Kyle Hendricks (right shoulder inflammation) threw a bullpen session Friday with the expectation he could face batters in his next assignment.