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Cubs’ Justin Steele aims to hold down scuffling Reds

May 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele (35) throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during the fifth inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Steele appears to have bounced back from the first rough portion on his otherwise stellar start to the season for the Chicago Cubs.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s Hunter Greene is still aiming for his elusive first victory in 2023.

One of the under-the-radar, early-season stars, Steele looks to build on another strong outing when the Cubs open a three-game home series against Greene and the Reds on Friday.

After posting a 1.49 ERA in his final 10 starts of 2022, Steele (6-1, 2.20 ERA) ranks among the major league leaders in wins (tied for fourth), ERA (sixth), WHIP (1.01, 10th) and opponents’ batting average (.212, 15th) this season.

On May 10 and May 16, the left-hander allowed a combined eight runs — one more than yielded through his first seven starts — over 12 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Houston Astros. However, he rebounded on Sunday to throw six scoreless innings, while giving up four hits and striking out six, during a no-decision against the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I think he’s taken that next step of confidence and learning (about) himself,” Cubs catcher Yan Gomes said. “He’s a great guy. He puts in a lot of work, and it’s paying off.”

Steele, though, hasn’t enjoyed success against the Reds, going 1-2 with a 7.58 ERA in six career games (four starts).

He will look to help the Cubs build on a series win over the visiting Mets this week, though New York took the finale of the three-game set 10-1 on Thursday. Chicago entered that series coming off a 2-7 road trip.

The Cubs are five games under .500 but 13-12 at Wrigley Field, where Cincinnati has lost three straight and six of eight dating back to last June. Mired in a 3-8 overall stretch, the Reds fell 2-1 against St. Louis on Thursday to conclude a 2-5 homestand.

Greene (0-4, 4.68 ERA) will try an 11th time to earn a victory this season. The Reds have lost all four May starts by the right-hander, who went 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA and allowed seven home runs in those outings.

“There are so many factors to getting a win in this game,” Greene said. “I never focus on that.”

On Sunday, Greene yielded four runs, four hits, including two homers, and three walks while striking out 10 over a season-high seven innings in a 4-1 loss to the New York Yankees.

“That was a step in the right direction,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He did his job.”

Each of Greene’s three previous appearances against the Cubs came when he was a rookie last season, and he went 2-1 with a 4.80 ERA. Chicago’s Nico Hoerner, Christopher Morel and Ian Happ are a combined 6-for-17 (.353) vs. Greene.

Morel, who had his 13-game hitting streak end Thursday, batted .322 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 16 games against Cincinnati last season. Teammate Seiya Suzuki, who is 1-for-5 against Greene, is batting .370 (17-for-46) with five homers and 10 RBIs in his past 13 contests.

Cincinnati’s Spencer Steer has never faced Steele but is batting .411 (14-for-34) with one homer and six RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak. Teammate TJ Friedl, batting .321 through 39 games this season, has six multi-hit games in 11 games this month.

–Field Level Media

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