Cubs come up short vs. Padres in Justin Steele’s return to the mound

CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Cubs had their chances to rally from behind to make the return of ace left-hander Justin Steele to the mound Monday night even more special than it already was.

But after a former Cub shut them out for five innings, the Cubs’ rally fell short in a 6-3 loss to the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field.

San Diego’s Yu Darvish pitched five scoreless innings to improve to 2-1, allowing three hits in his second start since he was activated off the 15-day injured list after being sidelined by neck stiffness. He struck out five and walked one.

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The Japanese right-hander, who played for Chicago for three seasons before he was traded to San Diego in December 2020, also tossed five shutout innings in a 6-4 victory against Cincinnati last week.

The Cubs, meanwhile, dropped to 2-2 on their current six-game homestand and 21-15 overall, still tied for first place in the National League Central with Milwaukee, which also lost Monday night.

Chicago continues its three-game series with the Padres and finishes its homestand Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs are now 12-5 at home this season.

Rally comes up short

After the Padres plated six runs in the top of the sixth inning off the beleaguered Chicago bullpen to break a scoreless tie following Steele’s departure, the Cubs scored two in the bottom of the sixth on Christopher Morel’s two-run homer and another in the bottom of the seventh on Yan Gomes’ solo shot.

The Cubs then loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the eighth on walks to Patrick Wisdom and Dansby Swanson and a single by Nick Madrigal. But the rally fizzled there.

Pete Crow-Armstrong struck out for the first out, then the Padres went to flame-throwing closer Robert Suarez. He struck out Gomes on a 99-mile-per-hour fastball and got Nico Hoerner to pop out to shortstop to end the threat.

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Suarez then worked a 1-2-3 ninth to seal his 11th save in 11 opportunities. The right-hander has allowed one run and seven hits in 15 1/3 innings this season.

“I mean, that was tremendous. … Robert comes in with his slow heartbeat in a big situation,” Padres manager Mike Shildt said.

Mike Tauchman added two hits and scored a run for the Cubs.

Steele strong in return

Steele pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his first major-league start since he strained his left hamstring on Opening Day. He allowed three hits while throwing 68 pitches, 43 for strikes.

“Felt really good, especially pitching at Wrigley again in front of the fans,” Steele said. “Really awesome just to be back with the team again, you know, in the locker room, hanging out with the guys and stuff.”

Steele got a big ovation when he departed, and Richard Lovelady retired Luis Arraez for the final out of the fifth. Manager Craig Counsell then sent Lovelady (0-1) back out for the sixth, and San Diego jumped all over the left-hander.

Singles by Fernando Tatis Jr. and Jake Cronenworth — along with a double steal — set up Jurickson Profar’s two-run single through a drawn-in infield. Donovan Solano hit an RBI single off Daniel Palencia, and Luis Campusano’s three-run double lifted the Padres to a 6-0 lead.

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“We get rewarded tonight by using the whole field,” Shildt said. “It was a great inning for a big six spot.”

It also allowed Darvish to get credited with the win.

“Better rhythm, I would say. I think the velocity is back as well,” Darvish said through a translator. “So all in all, I felt good pitching out there tonight.”

The Padres have won five of their last six games to pull to .500 at 19-19 enter Tuesday’s second game of the series.

Trainer’s room

Padres: 3B Manny Machado got the day off. The All-Star slugger is batting .287 (27-for-94) with three homers and 14 RBI in his last 23 games.

Cubs: OFs Seiya Suzuki (right oblique strain) and Cody Bellinger (right rib fracture) worked out before the game once again, including batting practice. Counsell said Suzuki is going to need a rehab stint in the minors, but Bellinger could be activated by the team before it begins a six-game trip at Pittsburgh on Friday night. … RHP Kyle Hendricks (low back strain) will make a rehab start for Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday.

Up next

Randy Vásquez and Shota Imanaga take the mound on Tuesday night. Vásquez (0-1, 5.87 ERA) was recalled from Triple-A El Paso when the Padres placed right-hander Joe Musgrove on the 15-day injured list on Sunday.

Imanaga (5-0, 0.78 ERA) is going for his fifth consecutive win for the Cubs.

First pitch at Wrigley Field is scheduled for 6:40 p.m.

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