Injured Steele to miss April, but Cubs encouraged by MRI

March 30th, 2024

ARLINGTON -- Given the way walked off the field after his abbreviated Opening Day start on Thursday night, Cubs manager Craig Counsell prepared himself for some tough news. Following tests on the pitcher’s ailing leg, Counsell said the early feedback can be classified as positive.

The Cubs are prepared to be without their rotation leader for the entirety of April, but Steele might be able to return to the mound “sometime in May,” per Counsell. Imaging on Steele’s left hamstring revealed a Grade 1 strain, which is far from ideal, but also far from any potential worst-case scenarios.

“It's probably better than at least I anticipated,” Counsell said on Saturday. “He's really much better today. He played catch today, which was a great sign. I think he's going to miss the month of April.”

Given the setback, the Cubs placed Steele on the 15-day injured list prior to Saturday’s game and recalled pitching prospect Ben Brown from Triple-A Iowa. Brown, who is ranked No. 10 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Prospects list for the Cubs, will be available out of the bullpen for the time being. The young righty would also be in the mix to assume Steele’s slot in the rotation.

“I’m in for anything,” said Brown, who will be making his MLB debut.

Counsell said any firm rehab calendars for Steele will be put on hold as the left-hander begins the healing process and returns to his normal walking gait. Once Steele is beyond any limping, the Cubs’ medical team can better lay out a plan for the coming days and weeks. Counsell did not rule out Steele getting into a Minor League game by the end of the month.

Steele sustained the injury in the fifth inning of Thursday’s 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Rangers. The lefty hustled off the Globe Life Field mound and grabbed a bunted ball from Leody Taveras. Steele completed the play with a nice flip to first base for an out, but said he “felt something grab” in his leg and fell to the ground.

“I just kind of went down with it,” Steele said Thursday night, "and didn't want to do anything to risk further injury.”

Steele won 16 games in a breakout showing last season for the Cubs, piling up 176 strikeouts against 36 walks with a 3.06 ERA in 173 1/3 innings. He was a first-time All-Star and was in the hunt for the Cy Young Award. Losing him for any length of time is a blow for Chicago, which is already without righty Jameson Taillon.

Taillon, who is on the 15-day IL due to a back strain that flared during the spring, was with the Cubs in Texas on Saturday, but just as a check-in with the team. The big righty threw live batting practice in Arizona on Friday and will do so again on Tuesday. If everything stays on course, he could pitch in a Minor League rehab outing for Triple-A Iowa on April 7.

Counsell said those next two steps for Taillon are locked in, as the Cubs do not want to rush him back as a reaction to the Steele situation.

“It's a great thing to say, ‘Hey, he's pitching, go pitch him,’” Counsell said of Taillon. “But short starts impact us later. So we've got to stretch starters out if we're going to have that bulk guy to not adversely impact the games after that.”