Lefty Justin Steele might be the most underrated starter in the majors.
Steele’s dominant stretch helped the Chicago Cubs get off to a great start during a challenging opening stretch. Back-to-back one-out walks in the third inning were the only time the San Diego Padres really tested Steele on Tuesday, who remained steady and in control in the sixth inning. Steele lowered his ERA to 1.19 after 5⅓ scoreless innings in the Cubs’ 6-0 win over the Padres at Wrigley Field.
Catcher Yan Gomes tallied a four-hit game, including a two-run homer in the second that was the only run of the game until the eighth, when he added an RBI single. Nico Hoerner’s three-run, two-run triple later provided the exclamation point for the Cubs (13-9).
The fifth shutout by a Cubs pitching staff tied a franchise record in the modern era for most shutouts in the first 22 games of a season (1969, 1907 and 1902).
“It’s just a testament to what we do,” Steele said. “For me, I tried my best to stay consistent and give the team a good shift to win every time.”
Here are three trends in Tuesday’s performance that highlight why Steele was shut out.
15 strikeouts on four-seam fastball
The Padres didn’t have many answers against Steele, especially against a fastball they struggled to get up.
The quick ball movement and Steele’s command around the zone forced Padres batters to try to control the inside of the plate, where they didn’t find much success. Steele’s 15 strikeouts on his four-seam fastball tied a career-high in one game.
He previously recorded 14 called pitches twice, both last season.
“It’s just the way he throws it — a country boy fastball,” Gomes said. “It comes out different. Obviously, the left angle will look a little different, but he has the ability to hide it well and sometimes it shows a slider, sometimes it grows.”
12 consecutive starts with two earned runs allowed or less
It all comes back to throwing strikes.
Steele’s ability to work around the offensive zone is key to getting things going. Too many balls in the hand diminishes its effectiveness. He’s averaging two walks per start this year, including Tuesday, but when Steele encounters a brief stretch where he struggles with command, the left-hander has been able to course-correct without allowing too much damage.
Steele’s success is no fluke — the 27-year-old former fifth-round pick picks up where he left off in 2022. With 5⅓ scoreless innings going into Tuesday, Steele has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 12 consecutive starts, tying. he tied with Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani for the second-longest active streak in Major League Baseball behind Max Fried (13) of the Atlanta Braves.
Steele’s 1.07 ERA in that span, dating back to July 22, is the lowest in MLB during this streak of dominance.
“We’re starting to see him mature and grow as a pitcher,” Gomes said. “Coming into the season, we referred to some of our young guys and I think he’s taking that next step of confidence and learning on his own.”
“He’s starting to understand that everything plays really well, and as he starts to have more confidence in each pitch, the pitches in his arsenal are going to work well.”
Hitters are batting .077 off his slider
While it looks like Steele is strictly a two-pitch starter with his fastball and slider, he can manipulate his catch and arm action to create more movement off these types of pitches.
His slider has been an elite weapon since Steele debuted in 2021, and the pitch remains an enigma to opposing hitters. Steele recorded 17 of 29 shots with his slider. Through five starts, batters are 3-for-39 (.077) from it.
“He just kept doing what he does,” manager David Ross said. “I think sometimes we get into a space where we need to do more or we need to develop more pitches or use different parts of the plate — what he’s been doing for a long time is consistently pitching to his zones and his pitches and not to get. hold that off until the hitters adjust.
“He sticks to his game plan and what he does well.”