Justin Steele appears to have avoided a worst-case scenario.
The Chicago Cubs received good news from Steele’s MRI with the lefty’s diagnosis of a forearm strain. It’s still unclear whether he will miss any starts, but the team does not anticipate an extended absence.
Steele is scheduled to play catch Saturday to test his forearm.
”I’m expecting it to go just as normal as any other day of catch,” Steele said. “Everything’s headed in the right direction.”
The Cubs will see how Steele’s forearm responds before determining if he needs to go on the 15-day injured list. He would likely miss two starts, though the Cubs potentially could limit Steele to one missed start by rearranging the rotation with an off day June 12 at the conclusion of their 10-game West Coast trip. It’s an encouraging outcome for the 27-year-old who exited his start Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays after three perfect innings because of forearm tightness. Steele underwent an MRI on Thursday’s off day.
Steele and Marcus Stroman have given the Cubs a formidable duo at the top of the rotation. Through 12 starts, Steele owns a 2.65 ERA and 166 ERA+ with 58 strikeouts and 16 walks in 68 innings.
The Cubs could use right-handers Javier Assad or Hayden Wesneski to fill in for Steele. Right-hander Ben Brown, who is on the 40-man roster, has pitched well at Triple-A Iowa too. The team recalled Wesneski on Tuesday to be used as a reliever in an effort to bolster a struggling bullpen. Wesneski threw 3⅔ innings in long relief of Steele in Wednesday’s loss to the Rays, allowing one run, walking two and striking out four.
“That’s a position you really want to be in as an organization, as a team, when something happens, the guy you’re bringing up right after and you feel really confident in them and I feel like that’s the situation we’re in with Wesneski, Assad and whoever else the case could be,” Steele said. “There’s a ton of guys we feel confident and comfortable with. It’s always a good position to be in.”
Steele’s importance to the Cubs in 2023 and long term should be a factor in the organization’s next steps with the lefty. Letting him fully recover either with an IL stint or pushing back his next start would be the precautious approach. The Cubs need the steady Steele, who has produced eight quality starts this year, if they are going to turn around the season.
“We’ll just kind of wait and see,” Ross said. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern to see how he feels (Saturday).”
Cody Bellinger (left knee bruise) took the next step in his progression pregame Friday at Petco Park. Ross said Bellinger was pain free Friday.
Bellinger hit off a machine on the field, then later spent 15 minutes in the outfield doing agility work and running under the watch of the training staff. He sprinted 90 feet — though not yet at maximum effort — on his first day of a running progression, a key hurdle in his ramp-up process.
The Cubs are discussing whether Bellinger will need a rehab assignment. He has been able to track pitches during bullpens and hit in the cage. Ross hopes Bellinger can come off the IL during the West Coast trip, “but it’s literally day to day.”
”He looked as good as I’ve seen him,” Ross said.
Mike Tauchman continues to play well in place of Bellinger in center field. In 13 games since the Cubs called him up, Tauchman has recorded nine walks in 42 plate appearances, including two Friday night against Michael Wacha, the National League pitcher of the month for May.