Steele gets unlikeliest of first career hits

September 19th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- The baseball was already in a protective case inside 's locker after Saturday night's game. It is a milestone memento that brought a smile of satisfaction to the Cubs rookie's face.

"I'm gonna hold on to that one," Steele said.

In the third inning of the Cubs' 6-4 loss to the Brewers, Steele collected his first Major League hit. The circumstances surrounding the single fell within the category of a classic baseball oddity.

Going into that inning, Brewers ace Corbin Burnes -- a contender for the National League Cy Young Award -- had a stretch of 36 consecutive batters faced without allowing a hit, dating back to Sept. 5. The righty spun eight no-hit frames in a combined no-hitter on Sept. 12 in Cleveland.

The Cubs had just six hits (and no runs) through 16 innings on the season against Burnes, who had racked up 30 strikeouts against one walk in that stretch. So, of course, baseball being baseball, Steele sent a first-pitch sinker into center for a clean single.

"I was really excited to do that," Steele said, "especially off somebody like Corbin Burnes. Everybody sees the year he's had. He's unbelievable. I just kind of went up there and ambushed him on the first pitch."

Per Statcast, Steele's single had a 103.8 mph exit velocity, which marked the hardest hit for a Cubs pitcher since Cole Hamels homered on Sept. 24, 2018. Steele also boasts the hardest-hit ball by a Cubs pitcher this season (a 104.7 mph groundout on Sept. 12).

Steele had been 0-for-8 as a hitter in the Majors prior to his hit on Saturday, with a 1-for-12 showing in the Minors. That lone hit was a two-run single on Aug. 4 with Triple-A Iowa. According to Max Preps, Steele hit .353 (1.012 OPS) in his days at George County High School (Lucedale, Miss.).

"I really enjoyed hitting my whole entire life," Steele said. "I really loved it growing up -- high school and stuff. Getting the hit in the big leagues was always kind of a thing I wanted to accomplish. If they [add] the DH next year, I can always say I have a big league hit."

Down on the farm

Triple-A Iowa: Outfielder Brennen Davis (No. 1 on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Cubs prospects list) went 2-for-3 with a double on Saturday. Through five games since his promotion to the highest Minor League level, Davis has hit .450 (9-for-20) with three homers and six RBIs.

Low-A Myrtle Beach: Righty Daniel Palencia, who was one of the players acquired from the A's for lefty Andrew Chafin before the Trade Deadline, struck out seven over five shutout innings on Saturday. The 21-year-old pitcher has a 3.67 ERA with 38 strikeouts and eight walks in 27 innings (seven starts) since entering the Cubs' system.

Arizona Complex League: Infielder James Triantos (second round, 2021 MLB Draft) finished the ACL season strong, going 3-for-4 with two homers and a double on Saturday. The 18-year-old Triantos (No. 11 on the Cubs' Top 30) hit .327/.376/.594 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 25 games.

News and nuggets
• The Cubs designated righty Dillon Maples for assignment on Sunday in order to activate Keegan Thompson from the 10-day injured list. Maples, 29, had a 2.59 ERA in 28 games this year, but he labored with his command (25 walks and eight hit batsmen in 31 1/3 innings). The righty had a 5.10 ERA in parts of five years for the Cubs.

"Look, this guy has worked his tail off to continue to evolve," Ross said of Maples. "We wish him the best in his career. Hopefully, for his sake, he catches on with somebody and is able to have a long, successful Major League career. It just doesn't look right now, at this time, that it's going to be with us."

• Ross gave outfielder Ian Happ a planned day off from starting on Sunday. Happ's homer Saturday was his ninth in a 21-game span, and his 12 blasts going back to Aug. 13 were tied with Bryce Harper for the most in the NL in that span, entering Sunday.

• Catcher Willson Contreras was struck on the top of his right foot by a foul ball in the eighth inning on Saturday, but he finished the game (at least until he was ejected following his ninth-inning strikeout). Ross said Contreras (out of the lineup Sunday) "felt fine" after the game and Sunday morning.

"When you get your first hit off somebody like Corbin Burnes -- the year he's having, one of the better pitchers in the game -- for Justin to get that, I thought that was pretty darned good." -- Ross, on Steele's first MLB hit