Cubs put Justin Steele on 15-day IL, call up pitching prospect Ben Brown

ARLINGTON, Texas — The prognosis on Cubs left-hander Justin Steele’s strained left hamstring was better than manager Craig Counsell anticipated after watching him limp off the field Thursday.

The Cubs put Steele on the 15-day injured list Saturday, as expected after he was hurt fielding a bunt in the season opener, and called up right-handed prospect Ben Brown, who came on in relief in an 11-2 loss to the Rangers.

An MRI exam Friday revealed a Grade 1 strain, Counsell said, which is considered mild.

“He’s much better today,” Counsell said.

Counsell expects Steele will miss at least April, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of Steele beginning a minor-league rehab assignment in late April.

“You’re not going to see him in a major-league game until sometime into May,” Counsell said.

The Cubs’ medical staff will lay out a plan for Steele once he’s walking without any limp.

“It’s, how much can we do with his arm going up to when we’re healthy?” Counsell said. “And then it gets more complicated with starters, on these guys returning to play. How many times are we going to have him go out before he pitches for us?”

Steele played catch Saturday, which Counsell called a “great sign.”

Brown, who was originally scheduled to start for Triple-A Iowa on Saturday, threw a scoreless seventh inning in his debut, but the eighth quickly spiraled on him. He was charged with six runs and five hits in 1⅔ innings. Three of those hits went right to fielders — two-time gold glover Dansby Swanson, third baseman Christopher Morel and Brown — who weren’t able to come up with the ball.

Counsell hasn’t announced who’ll start in Steele’s place the next turn through the rotation. But Brown will somehow fit into the equation of replacing Steele’s innings.

“We’ve got four games before we have to make any decisions,” Counsell said. “We called Ben up for a reason, and today, he’s out of the pen. But the sequence of games can make you change your mind or rainouts, weather.”

The forecast for the Cubs’ home-opening series against the Rockies next week includes rain on Monday and Tuesday and snow on Wednesday. If the Cubs have to reschedule one of those games, they might not even need a fifth starter. And if they end up playing a doubleheader next week, they’ll get a “27th man” for that day. The Cubs could also opt for a bullpen day at some point.

“If I don’t have to make the decision yet, we’re not going to make it yet,” Counsell said.

The decision to call up Brown was more straightforward. When the Cubs optioned him to Triple-A on March 8, Counsell promised: “We’ll be asking about him soon. Really soon.’’

The Cubs called over to minor-league camp to have Brown make two Cactus League starts, getting eyes on him in that role. He threw four scoreless innings against both the Angels and Brewers in performances that Counsell said were impressive.

“One on the road against a really good lineup, and then one at home,” Counsell said. “And so he was throwing the ball very well, and that was important as we looked to make this decision.”

Brown was on the cusp of a call-up late last year, but an oblique injury sunk his hopes of debuting.

“I learned so many valuable lessons from last year that we’re already seeing play out,” Brown said before the game. “We saw it play out in spring training, where I was able to throw the ball like myself again.’’

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