Cubs’ Steele channels ghost of Jon Lester’s past vs. Brewers originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Cubs left-hander Justin Steele pitched every five days with the ghost of Jon Lester at his back for nearly three months.
So when the ghosts of the Lefty Cubs past and Lefty Cubs present finally met on Sunday, it was perhaps no coincidence that the future seemed in sight, if not within reach.
Lester, who spent the better part of six years pitching as an ace for the Cubs and playing an outsized role in the 2016 championship, received a loud ovation from the Wrigley crowd on Sunday when he was shown on the board video as he watched Sunday’s game against the Brewers with his family.
Perhaps no one owed a standing ovation more than Steele, who may have delivered one with six scoreless innings in which he allowed just two singles and a walk – and struck out nine.
“I introduced myself to him before the game,” said Steele, who received well-heard advice from Lester, through manager David Ross, after a shaky start on May 31 against those same Brewers. “We had a quick chat and I told him I appreciated that he reached out to Rossy earlier in the season. He didn’t have to, so that was much appreciated.
On Sunday, the bullpen lost a 2-0 lead after he left, and the Brewers ended the Cubs’ five-game winning streak with a 5-2 win. But the last thing that matters with these Cubs these days is whether they win a game (have you heard of that new draft lottery?).
Steel? Hell, he’s a homegrown starting pitcher who not only seems to be sticking — but he’s improving as he continues to rack up new personal highs in workload this year.
It’s not just important for the demolished and rebuilding Cubs; it’s the rarest of rarities for a front office working on its 11th running season.
And Steele’s command and dominance against a roster that included seven right-handers on Sunday likely matched the advice he took from Lester that was as simple as it was effective: hammer the right-handers down and with the fastball (which makes slider and heat even more intense). efficient).
RELATED: How Lester influenced Steele’s career from afar
“I think Jonny Lester is here and that advice, with the fact that he’s in the zone… He really took that and really ran with it,” said teammate Ian Happ, whose first-run homer made him the 26th Cub with 100 homers.
Steele has a 2.08 ERA in 13 starts since Ross relayed Lester’s observations, averaging 5 2/3 innings per start compared to four innings per start before that.
In fact, Steele hasn’t allowed an earned run in four of his last five starts, with an 0.86 ERA in 31 1/3 innings over his last six – the lowest ERA in the majors in during this one-month period.
“He’s been awesome,” Happ said. “What he was able to do, even before the second half – but in the second half, what he settled into. This is who he is. This is who he can be.
“He kept improving.”
And that could be as important as anything for a club looking for enough reliable frontline and mid-rotation parts to finally declare this lousy, property-focused rebuild ready for another step forward. competitive — maybe even enough to inspire the kind of key free-agent acquisition that Jon Lester became the last time they got out of a tank and started a competitive run.
Steele appears to be getting more consistent, if not stronger, later in a season that already includes a career-high 113 2/3 innings.
He said he gained more weight during the offseason, between his diet and training schedule, anticipating a longer and heavier workload.
The Cubs are keeping a close eye out for any signs of fatigue while being careful not to push him under any circumstances — like coming in 89 pitches to a dominant outing on Sunday.
“If he had told me to keep going, I would have kept going,” said Steele, who admitted it was wetter than he expected during the game.
What’s the ceiling for this fastball-slider southpaw with a developing change? In performance or in workload?
He dropped his ERA to 3.25 for the season as he reached 23 starts.
“I have no idea,” said Steele, who already seems to be achieving “workhorse” status by today’s standards with the looks of a six-inning starter. “I didn’t really think years ahead. I am very present.
Lester, who has previously expressed irritation with himself for missing 200 innings, might not exactly consider six innings the measure of a workaholic, and might even have a few more words to offer on the matter – as Cubs Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins has the occasion. for Lester’s generation of “workhorses”.
But for Steele’s ‘present’ and the Cubs’ ‘future’, no one in the clubhouse or front office seems very concerned about definitions, as long as this southpaw maintains it.
“Where he comes from at the start of the season, it feels like you get that performance every time he steps on the mound,” Ross said.
As for Steele’s cap, “The guy we have right now is pretty darn good,” Ross said. “If that’s it, I’ll take this place here.”
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