Cubs lose again, but Steele showing promise as starter

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs' Justin Steele throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

    Chicago Cubs' Justin Steele throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

 
 
Updated 8/16/2021 10:19 PM

Justin Steele's hometown of Lucedale, Mississippi isn't hard to find. It's halfway between Hattiesburg and Mobile, and has more than one stoplight.

Steele said it took the scouts a little while to find him when he was a fireballer at George County High School, but there is a pretty good athletic history in that part of the state.

 

According to baseball-reference.com, Steele is one of seven players from his high school who were drafted in baseball since 2001. Longtime NFL wide receiver Eric Moulds is an alum.

"Then Claude Passeau Sr., who threw a 1-hitter for the Cubs in 1945, he's from my area," Steele said. "His grandson was here watching me (last Tuesday). Me and his grandson are great friends, so that's a really cool story in itself."

Passeau Sr. is no footnote. He spent nine seasons pitching for the Cubs and started Games 3 and 6 of the 1945 World Series, earning a win and no-decision.

"It's a small town, but a lot of talent's came from there as far as sports go," said Steele, a fifth-round pick of the Cubs in 2014. "Baseball nowadays, you've got to showcase and stuff. They're going to find you eventually. It took until my junior year to kind of get on the radar, but once they had seen me, they started watching me at my high school games and things took off from there."

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Steele took the mound for his second major-league start Monday night in Cincinnati. Like the initial start at Wrigley Field, Steele was good, with a few flaws.

He did a nice job working out of trouble in the first three innings, then gave up a 2-run homer to Jonathan India in the fourth and left after throwing 82 pitches. The Cubs lost to the Reds 14-5, running their losing streak to 12 in a row, two off the franchise record.

Obviously, wins aren't important for the Cubs right now. There's a tight race for draft spots between No. 5 and 10. But Steele as a starting pitcher falls into the hope for the future category. His final line was 5 hits, 2 runs, 3 walks and 5 strikeouts.

The left-handed Steele can throw the sweeping curveball and slider, that batters on both sides of the plate have trouble hitting. He was similar to Reds starting pitcher Wade Miley in that regard.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But Steele can also bring the heat, typically hitting 95 with his four-seam fastball. Miley's fastball peaked at 90 miles per hour, and he threw only three of those in 7 innings Monday.

"(Steele's) slider is probably a pretty devastating pitch, much different than the cutter that Miley has, and he also has the breaking ball and the changeup," manager David Ross said. "You have a seasoned veteran who knows what he wants to do, and Justin will continue to pitch and become that guy. I have a lot of confidence in that. Stuff-wise, Justin's in one of those different categories for me."

The Cubs are expecting to add Keegan Thompson to the rotation soon. He started for Iowa on Sunday, threw 4⅓ perfect innings and was named Triple-A East pitcher of the week.

Since announcing they'd go to a six-man rotation the rest of the season, the Cubs released Jake Arrieta and lost Adbert Alzolay (hamstring) to the injured list. Arrieta signed with the Padres on Monday, to fill in for the injured Yu Darvish. The Cubs have not announced a starter for Wednesday's series finale in Cincinnati.

While Steele kept the Cubs in the game, the Reds piled up 10 runs against relievers Michael Rucker and Dan Winkler. Joey Votto collected his 2,000th career hit in the seventh inning.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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