Fifth-inning escape allows Cubs' Steele to end dry spell

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele throws against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning Saturday at Wrigley Field.

    Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele throws against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning Saturday at Wrigley Field. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/18/2022 7:03 PM

After getting into some trouble in the fifth inning, Cubs pitcher Justin Steele took a quick glance toward the dugout, because he thought manager David Ross might be coming with the hook.

"I saw he wasn't leaving the step and I was like, 'All right, let's go,'" Steele said.

 

With the bases loaded, Steele coaxed fly outs from Austin Riley and Marcell Ozuna to end the inning and preserve a 4-2 Cubs lead. It was also significant because Steele was able to record a win for the first time since his first start of the season on April 9 against Milwaukee.

During three starts in June, Steele (2-5) has posted a 1.89 ERA.

"I'm happy with how I've pitched over the course of the whole season," Steele said. "Just got to keep learning from each outing and keep moving forward."

That fifth inning did get a little shaky, though. Adam Duvall led off with a home run, then a single and two walks loaded the bases with one out.

"I felt like the Braves did a really good job in that fifth inning of making adjustments, fouling pitches off, working at-bats, building my pitch count," Steele said. "So I kind of tip my cap to them in the fifth."

There was one mound visit during the inning, then Ross sent catcher Willson Contreras out to talk to Steele. That's a move typically meant to buy time for a reliever to get ready, but Steele got to stay on the mound this time.

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"That's what I wanted," he said. "I wanted to stay in because those were my runners and I got myself in that situation, I wanted to get myself out of it, give the bullpen a clean inning."

Judging fastballs:

It's easy to think faster is better when it comes to pitching, but Friday's duel offered an interesting case study.

Cubs right-hander Keegan Thompson used his four-seam fastball heavily and averaged 93.5 miles per hour. Atlanta veteran Charlie Morton hit 98 mph a few times, but both pitchers were dominant in a game the Cubs won 1-0.

"Throwing hard and having a good fastball are two different things," Cubs manager David Ross said before Saturday's game. "(A good fastball) is when hitters don't see it. I mean, Kyle (Hendricks') fastball is good and it's 86-87."

After Friday's game, Ross said his core belief is pitching with the fastball, which Thompson did against Atlanta. Ross clarified that statement by saying he meant establishing the best pitch, which may not always be the fastball. He mentioned spin rate, carry, pitch angle compared to swing plane as factors.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I don't think there's any one answer to what makes a good fastball," Ross said. "I think it's all relative to what the deception is and how hitters see it."

Schwindel to IL:

The Cubs placed Frank Schwindel on the 10-day injured list with a low-back strain and recalled Alfonso Rivas from Iowa. Schwindel left Friday's game in the second inning when he started hobbling while running to first base.

"I think the thing we related it to was a lot like spring training," manager David Ross said. "He had that little bit of back pain flair up. Feels very similar. I think we gave him three days off and then he started progressing. Making sure Frank gets all the way healthy is a priority."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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