Cubs pitcher Justin Steele walked into Triple-A pitching coach Ron Villone’s office Monday with some news.
“Hey, I’m not throwing today,” Steele said.
While getting ready for a game at the South Bend alternate site, Steele had picked up a call from Cubs director of major league travel Vijay Tekchandani. A van was picking up Steele at 2:30 p.m. to take him to Milwaukee.
Villone already knew. He gave Steele a hug and congratulated him on the call-up.
“I was just smiling the whole way,” Steele said Tuesday of the drive, “just thinking back on all the years I’ve worked so hard to get here.”
Steele was scheduled to pitch two innings in South Bend on Monday. Instead, he made his MLB debut against the Brewers at American Family Field. In the Cubs’ 6-3 loss, Steele threw 1 1/3 shutout innings in relief.
Steele was one of three pitchers the Cubs called up on Monday, as they placed relievers Jason Adam, Dan Winkler and Brandon Workman on the COVID-19 related injured list. Along with Steele, the Cubs recalled left-hander Brad Wieck and selected right-hander Pedro Strop as a replacement player from the alternate site.
Steele’s call-up was so last-minute, his parents didn’t have the chance to watch his debut in person. But Steele said he hopes they’ll to watch him pitch in the big-leagues soon.
Steele’s first major league call-up came last year, in the middle of a fan-less shortened season. But he never appeared in a game.
On Monday, by contrast, Steele was the second reliever out of the Cubs bullpen. Manager David Ross called Steele’s trip from South Bend to the mound in Milwaukee a “last-minute fire drill.”
It just so happened that Adbert Alzolay, one of the first friends Steele made in professional baseball, was scheduled to start for the Cubs Monday.
“Making my debut coming in after him meant a lot,” Steele said.
Alzolay had cruised through the first five innings, facing the minimum. Then, in the sixth, he loaded the bases and got the first out by inducing a ground ball. Left-hander Andrew Chafin replaced him, and the Brewers bats heated up. By the time Steele took over for Chafin, the Brewers had batted through the order and scored six runs.
Steele struck out Brewers eight-hole hitter Daniel Robertson in five pitches to end the inning.
Then Steele took the mound the next inning and threw a scoreless frame.
“I get chills still,” Alzolay said after the game. “… It just made me so happy to see a guy like Justin Steele coming out here and showing what he can do in this game.”
When Steele came back to the dugout after the seventh inning, he and Alzolay shared a big hug.
“We’re just very proud of each other,” Steele said. “We’ve pushed each other to get here. And we’re just very blessed to be here.”
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