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Justin Steele injury: Cubs ace leaves Opening Day start with left hamstring strain, IL stint likely

Chicago Cubs left-hander Justin Steele exited his start on Thursday night against the Texas Rangers after suffering what the Cubs initially called left hamstring tightness during the bottom of the fifth inning, though manager Craig Counsell later confirmed that it was a left hamstring strain. 

Steele will undergo an MRI on Friday, and an injured list stint is a likely outcome, according to Counsell. 

“You’re thinking that it’s just a shame,” Counsell said when asked about his thoughts when Steele went down. “He’s pitching really, really well. Obviously an important member of the team, and it looks like we’re gonna miss him for a little bit here.” 

Steele went down after successfully fielding a Leody Taveras push bunt and tossing to first base for the second out in the inning. He then began to grab at his hamstring, taking some time before making his way to the Cubs dugout. Here’s a look at the play:

Counsell subsequently inserted right-hander Julian Merryweather.

Steele, 28, had pitched well to that point in the night. In 4 2/3 innings he had surrendered one run on three hits and a walk. He had also struck out six batters, generating a game-high 10 swinging strikes, including six on his fastball.

Steele has developed into a high-quality starter for the Cubs in recent seasons. Over the last two years, he’s compiled a 3.11 ERA (140 ERA+) and a 3.51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 292 innings pitched. Last season, he made his first career All-Star Game appearance.

With Steele likely headed to the IL, it represents another big blow for the club’s pitching staff. Chicago is already without veteran right-hander Jameson Taillon, who began the season on the shelf because of a strained shoulder. If the Cubs need to dip into their depth to replace Steele, they have a few options, ranging from pitchers already on the 40-player roster (Ben Brown and Hayden Wesneski) to Cade Horton, one of the best pitching prospects in the game in CBS Sports’ evaluation. (Horton was ranked No. 18 entering the spring.) 

Chicago would go onto lose the game in extra innings, 4-3. The team will have Friday off before continuing its series against the Rangers on Saturday.

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