Steele learning to balance contact, whiffs

August 28th, 2021

CHICAGO -- The first three starts of 's rotation audition have featured flashes of a dominant arm, but also displayed why there is still plenty of development and growth to go.

"There's a huge upside and potential in there," Cubs manager David Ross said.

What Chicago is trying to unlock is a version of Steele that blends the good found within these first-look starts. Part of the learning curve is the balance of inducing contact with hunting for whiffs.

In his first career start on Aug. 10, Steele lacked a feel for his slider against the Brewers and made a quick adjustment. The Cubs lefty leaned on his sinker, mixed in some changeups and turned in a fairly efficient outing.

The last two starts have been more swing-and-miss focused -- with heavy four-seam/slider use -- but with mixed results. In Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Rockies on Wednesday, Steele exited after throwing 73 pitches in 3 2/3 innings, in which he allowed four runs on five hits.

"The best version of him is probably a combination of all that," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. "He is going to be a guy that's going to pitch off his four-seam and slider. Those are his two dominant pitches. But, it's being able to understand when swing-and-miss is important, when weak contact and early contact is important.

"As a starter, some of the best guys that I've ever been around are guys that want to get early-count outs. Then, if you get to two strikes, yeah, now I have my put-away pitches."

After Steele threw his sinker 33 percent of the time on Aug. 10, his use of that contact-based pitch dropped to 13 percent on Aug. 16 and then just four percent on Wednesday. In the start against Colorado, he three only six curveballs, three sinkers and two changeups.

That pitch use netted these results:

Total whiffs (per swings)
Aug. 10: four (14 percent)
Aug. 16: 13 (34 percent)
Wednesday: nine (23 percent)

Pitches per inning
Aug. 10: 14.0
Aug. 16: 20.5
Wednesday: 19.9

"We get so caught up in getting the swing-and-miss," Hottovy said. "That means strike one, you're getting a swing-and-miss. Strike two, you're getting a swing-and-miss. Now, you've shown them the swing-and-miss pitches that you want. Hitters can make adjustments.

Down on the farm
• Outfielder Owen Caissie (No. 9 on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Cubs prospects list) went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles, two RBIs, two walks and two runs in a 9-8 win for Low-A Myrtle Beach on Thursday. Caissie, 19, was recently promoted after hitting .355 (1.093 OPS) in 32 games at the Arizona Complex League.

• Shortstop Kevin Made, 18, had three hits and two runs scored for Myrtle Beach on Thursday. Made is ranked No. 17 on the Cubs' Top 30 list.

Worth noting
• Righty Adbert Alzolay (10-day injured list, left hamstring) played catch on Friday at Guaranteed Rate Field and is slated to throw a bullpen Saturday. The pitcher worked two innings in a rehab outing for Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday.

"The big thing for me was making sure he got through the outing," Hottovy said. "Then it's getting through his bullpen, and hopefully we'll be able to evaluate and get him back into games here real soon."

• Catcher Willson Contreras (10-day IL, right knee) went through a full pregame workout on Friday and could head out on a Minor League rehab stint soon, according to Ross.

• Infielder David Bote sustained a right ankle sprain during pregame batting practice on Friday and was scratched from the lineup due to the issue.

"You want to allow a guy to work through those things. But it also shows you, at this level, if you don't have it right away, teams can jump on it. You don't want him to abandon what he does well, but we also want to continue to build out the whole repertoire." -- Hottovy, on Steele searching for his fastball command Wednesday, when the lefty issued a leadoff walk followed by a home run in the first inning