06 Jul

change in the wind?

The zero is gone. Maybe the luck has changed, too. Justin Steele, the lefty from Lucedale, winless in 12 starts this season for the Chicago Cubs, got on the board Friday and did it in emphatic fashion. Steele threw a two-hitter at the Los Angeles Angels in a 5-1 victory at Wrigley Field. He walked two, fanned seven. He threw just 95 pitches, only four in locking down the W in the ninth inning. It was Steele’s first career complete game in 76 starts over four seasons. As he jogged to the mound for the ninth, the p.a. played his walk-out song, Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” and the Wrigleyville crowd got loud. “It was a special moment. Something I’ll never forget,” Steele said in an mlb.com piece. Steele won 16 games for the Cubs in 2023 and made the All-Star Game. The George County High product got hurt in the season opener this year, went on the injured list and endured nothing but tough luck after his return — before Friday, that is. He is now 1-3 despite a 2.95 ERA. Today at Wrigley there is a Justin Steele bobblehead giveaway. Talk about good timing. … Steele’s complete game was the first by a Mississippi native in MLB since Brandon Woodruff tossed one on Sept. 11 of last year. There were none in 2022. For the record — and as an indicator of how the game has changed — the career mark for complete games by a Mississippian is 188 by Claude Passeau (1935-47). Guy Bush (1923-45) posted 151. Roy Oswalt (2001-13) had 20. P.S. From all indications, Colt Keith has found his power midway through his rookie season. The former state player of the year from Biloxi High hit two 400-foot home runs Friday for Detroit, fueling a 5-4 win at Cincinnati. Lefty hitter Keith, 6 feet 2, 211 pounds, now has seven bombs on the year, four in his last 15 games. He didn’t hit his first MLB homer until May 24. A fifth-round pick in 2020, Keith hit 38 homers over his three minor league seasons.

16 Nov

he’s the one

At one point this past season, Justin Steele looked like a frontrunner for the National League Cy Young Award. The former George County High star missed some time with an injury, had a few wobbles down the stretch and ultimately finished fifth in the voting revealed on Wednesday. Any disappointment he might have felt surely was assuaged by the $1 million bonus he received for that rank. Steele, a 28-year-old left-hander, went 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP over 30 starts in his third MLB campaign with the Chicago Cubs. He made the All-Star Game and threw a scoreless inning. He was one of the main reasons the Cubs stayed in the hunt in the NL wild card chase until the bitter end. For all those efforts, Steele is the 2023 winner of the Cool Papa Bell Award, given here to the top performer among Mississippians (natives or school alums) in the big leagues. Steele, a Lucedale native, was drafted in the fifth round by the Cubs in 2014, persevered through injuries and finally made The Show in 2021. Now a mainstay in the Cubs’ rotation, he gets the nod for the Bell over DeSoto Central product Austin Riley, the 2022 winner who had another big year for Atlanta.

04 Sep

come monday

This was so cool. Watching Lucedale native Justin Steele, the Chicago Cubs ace, mow down the San Francisco Giants today on MLB Network and this happened: After Steele punched out the last batter in the top of the seventh inning to roars at Wrigley Field, the Cubs played a video of the late, great Jimmy Buffett, another Mississippi native, singing the traditional “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” anthem from the press box during a game in 1998. Wearing Harry Caray-replica glasses, Buffett punctuated his rendition with Caray’s pet phrase “Let’s get some runs.” And, of course, the Cubs did, scoring twice in the seventh to take a 3-0 lead en route to a 5-0 win. Only baseball, it seems, can deliver moments like this. For the record, Steele went eight, allowing two hits and two walks, striking out a career-high 12 and running his record to 16-3.

30 Aug

steele-y performance

No Mississippi native has won a Cy Young Award. Justin Steele, the left-hander from Lucedale, is building a mighty strong case. Steele threw six shutout innings Tuesday night to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 1-0 victory against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field. The former George County High star has 15 wins, tied for the National League lead, and a 2.69 ERA, second in the loop. He also has a league-best 18 quality starts, perhaps none bigger or better than Tuesday’s. The Cubs’ win snapped the first-place Brewers’ nine-game win streak and trimmed second-place Chicago’s deficit to 4 games in the NL Central. Steele was struck in the left leg, just above the knee, by a line drive in the second inning but, unfazed, went on to throw 111 pitches, allowing just six hits and one walk while fanning eight. When he got a punch out for the final out of the sixth, he walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the 33,294 at the Friendly Confines. “I loved it. I love pitching in that environment,” Steele told mlb.com. Steele out-dueled former Biloxi Shuckers ace Corbin Burnes, a former Cy Young winner (2021), who pitched seven brilliant innings for Milwaukee. … Cliff Lee, a Meridian Community College alum from Arkansas, won the American League Cy Young in 2008 with Cleveland. Former Jackson Mets standout Mike Scott won the NL award in 1986 with Houston. The award was initiated in 1956. P.S. The AL West race sure looks like fun. Seattle, Texas and Houston are tied at the top after Tuesday’s results. Mississippi State product J.P. France picked up his 10th win for the Astros, going 5 2/3 (two runs) to beat Boston 6-2 at Fenway Park. France gained a measure of revenge against the Red Sox, who pounded the rookie right-hander for 10 runs in a loss last week. Ex-State star Chris Stratton got the final two outs of the sixth inning, stranding two inherited runners, to pluck the win for Texas, which beat the New York Mets 2-1 at CitiField. Stratton has a 2.00 ERA in 11 games for the Rangers.

24 Jun

across the pond

In the familiar confines of Wrigley Field and other major league parks, Justin Steele has been good, perhaps All-Star good. Today, the former George County High star enters a great unknown, London Stadium, when he takes the mound for the Chicago Cubs against St. Louis in the opener of the London Series. He’ll be opposed by the savvy veteran Adam Wainwright, but don’t expect a pitchers’ duel. The stadium dimensions have been increased by a few feet since 2019, when the New York Yankees and Boston hit 10 home runs and scored 50 runs in a pair of games in the inaugural London Series. But it’s still likely to play as a hitter’s park. Steele is 7-2 with a 2.71 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP this season; he is 5-1, 2.57, at Wrigley, which tends to favor hitters. The left-hander from Lucedale went five innings (yielding two runs on a late homer) against Baltimore on June 17 in his first start off the 15-day injured list. Several Cardinals batters have good numbers against Steele: Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Tommy Edman are a combined 10-for-25 with a homer (by Goldschmidt). … Also in London is Chris Stratton, the ex-Mississippi State standout who works out of the St. Louis bullpen. He has a 4.30 ERA in 27 games for the scuffling Cardinals, who are last (31-44) in the National League Central. The Cubs are third at 36-38.

18 Jun

nice comebacks

In his first outing in 17 days, after an impatient stay on the injured list, Justin Steele carved up the Baltimore Orioles for the better part of five innings Saturday and earned his seventh win of the year for the Chicago Cubs. “Good to be back on the saddle,” the ex-George County High star said on Twitter. Indeed. Steele went on the IL on May 31 with left forearm tightness. He said in an mlb.com article that the tightness subsided quickly and he felt fine during the IL stint, eager to get back on the bump. “I was never worried about it,” he said. At Wrigley Field on MLB Network on Saturday, he blanked the Orioles for 4 2/3 innings before an Adley Rutschman homer tied the score at 2-2. Steele got the last out of the fifth, the Cubs went ahead in the bottom half and held on for a 3-2 win. Steele, who threw 74 pitches, improved to 7-2 with a 2.71 ERA, third-best in the National League. … Kansas City rallied from a late 8-2 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Angels 10-9 on Saturday, saving Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers from another humbling defeat. Mayers, making his sixth appearance and second start since being brought up from Triple-A, allowed six runs (three homers) in five-plus innings. Mayers is 1-2 with a 6.15 ERA. The veteran right-hander, who signed as a minor league free agent with the Royals in the off-season, has allowed 16 runs in his last three appearances and took L’s in the previous two. His roster status might be shaky. P.S. Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College standout, left the White Sox’s game with a shoulder injury. Dropped from the top spot in the order to No. 2, he was 0-for-1 with a walk before his exit. His replacement in the lineup, rookie Zach Remillard, went 3-for-3 and drove in the winning run in Chicago’s 4-3, 11-inning victory over Seattle.

26 Apr

chart-topper

The current list of National League ERA leaders includes an array of familiar names, from Clayton Kershaw to Marcus Stroman to Atlanta sensation Spencer Strider. But the leader of this pack is a left-hander from Mississippi who is having a breakout season. Justin Steele, former George County High standout, trimmed his ERA to a 1.19 by throwing 5 1/3 shutout innings Tuesday in the Chicago Cubs’ 6-0 win against San Diego at frigid Wrigley Field. Steele is 4-0 — tied for the NL lead in wins — over five starts with victories against the Padres, Oakland, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas. “I’ve just been trying my hardest to be consistent …,” Steele said in an Associated Press article. He has gone at least 5 1/3 in each of his starts and hasn’t allowed more than four hits or two runs in any of them. His WHIP is 0.89. Drafted out of high school in 2014 (fifth round) by the Cubs, Steele battled through injuries before finally reaching the majors in 2021. He moved into the Cubs’ rotation last year and went 4-7, 3.18, in 24 outings. That effort appears to have been just a tease about what was to come.

15 Apr

not to be overlooked

The return of Seiya Suzuki to the lineup and the return of Cody Bellinger to Dodger Stadium generated much of the buzz for the Chicago Cubs on Friday night. But when the game was done, Justin Steele deserved his share. The former George County High star shackled the Los Angeles Dodgers over seven innings as the Cubs took an 8-2 victory. “Steely looked phenomenal, really pounded the zone. Thought he was dominant,” Cubs manager David Ross told the Chicago Sun-Times. Steele allowed just three hits and a walk while striking out eight. “I was just sticking to my strengths,” said Steele, who commanded his four-seamer and slider well all night. The left-hander improved to 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three starts. Now entering his fourth MLB season, Steele (career ERA: 3.32) is an emerging ace for the Cubs as they look to contend in the National League Central. … Also earning shout-outs in MLB: DeSoto Central alum Austin Riley, who hit career home run No. 100 (in his 464th game) as Atlanta pounded Kansas City. Riley’s third homer of the season was one of five the first-place Braves hit at Kauffman Stadium. … Ex-Mississippi State star Nathaniel Lowe drove in three runs and extended his hit streak to nine games to help first-place Texas take down Houston in an American League West clash. Lowe has 13 RBIs, tied for sixth in the AL.

04 Mar

that’ll work

Justin Steele’s spring debut was pushed back a few days because he was feeling some fatigue in his left arm. The former George County High star appeared to have plenty of zip in that wing on Friday night, when he threw two perfect innings as the front man in the Chicago Cubs’ seven-man no-hitter against San Diego. In a Cactus League game televised on MLB Network, Steele breezed — 18 pitches — through a Padres lineup that included Trent Grisham, Jake Cronenworth, Manny Machado and Nelson Cruz. After doing an in-game interview from the dugout, the 27-year-old lefty threw 25 more pitches in the bullpen. “Their lineup is going to be really good,” Steele said of the Padres in an mlb.com story. “It’s good to get out there and compete again.” In his second MLB season in 2022, Steele went 4-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 24 starts for a sub-.500 Cubs team. He reportedly worked long hours in the off-season adding a change-up (which he didn’t have to roll out Friday) to his arsenal. Steele slots in as perhaps the No. 3 starter for a Chicago team that spent some big money in the off-season to make a postseason push. “He’s one of the guys we’re gonna rely heavily on,” Cubs manager David Ross told mlb.com. P.S. Ex-Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, Detroit’s No. 4-rated prospect (per MLB Pipeline), hit his first career spring homer on Friday in a Grapefruit League contest against Philadelphia. Keith, a non-roster invitee in Tigers camp, hit .301 with nine homers in High-Class A last season, his second as a pro.

05 Jul

coming up empty

Practically perfect for four innings and pretty darn good deep into the seventh, Justin Steele had the Chicago Cubs in position to win on Monday. Alas, they did not. Trying to hold a 1-0 lead, the Lucedale native gave up a run with two outs in the seventh and left the game. He had allowed just two hits, four walks and fanned nine. The Cubs would go on to lose to National League Central leader Milwaukee 5-2 in 10 innings. Steele got a no-decision, his eighth in 16 starts. It’s been that kind of year for Steele and the fourth-place Cubs (32-48). After a rough start to his second big league campaign — he was 1-5 with a 5.32 ERA through May — the 26-year-old left-hander has been sharp over his last seven starts, posting a 3.03 ERA. But he has just two wins in that stretch and is 3-5, 4.13, on the season. Drafted in Round 5 in 2014 out of George County High, injuries stalled Steele’s progress in the minors. The Cubs, world champs in 2016, were falling into rebuild mode by the time Steele arrived in April of 2021. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Steele utilizes a four-pitch mix and typically avoids hard contact, having yielded just five homers in 76 1/3 innings in 2022. His work since early June — after getting some tips from ex-Cubs star Jon Lester — would seem to have solidified his role in the Cubs’ future plans. P.S. Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe reportedly has resumed baseball activities and is close to returning to Milwaukee’s active roster. The ex-Mississippi State star has been on the injured list (calf) since June 23.