Home News Chicago Cubs call up Ben Brown with Justin Steele sidelined

Chicago Cubs call up Ben Brown with Justin Steele sidelined

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Chicago Cubs right-hander Ben Brown found a few minutes to reflect Saturday morning roughly 12 hours after learning he earned his first big-league call-up.

During his flight from Des Moines, Iowa, to Dallas, Brown looked through old photos on his phone, thinking of the 17-year-old kid the Philadelphia Phillies drafted in the now-defunct 33rd round of the 2017 draft. Seven years later, Brown is in the majors, replacing left-hander Justin Steele, who went on the 15-day injured list with a left hamstring strain.

“The fact that I’m here right now, being in the position that I was when I was drafted and coming through the minor leagues, kind of suspect and prospect, things don’t really work out the way that someone says they’re going to work out,” Brown said Saturday. “So actually being here today, I can believe that I’m here, that’s really cool. I belong here. It’s affirmation for sure.

“It’s unbelievable to really put it all into words.”

Brown was available out of the bullpen Saturday night, but manager Craig Counsell expects Brown to “definitely be involved in some length or a start” at some point.

“The schedule has some things that we don’t know yet,” Counsell said. “So if I don’t have to make the decision yet, we’re not going to make it yet.”

Steele is dealing with a Grade 1 left hamstring strain that will keep him out at least through April. The diagnosis was better than Counsell anticipated after seeing how Steele walked off the field after he suffered the injury during the fifth inning Thursday. Counsell didn’t rule out Steele beginning a rehab assignment by the end of the month, but the Cubs won’t have a good idea of his timeline to return until his gait is back to normal so the training staff can outline a plan.

It’s also unclear how much Steele will be able to keep his arm strength up while he is sidelined. He missed 6½ weeks midseason in 2021 because of a right hamstring strain.

“Then it gets more complicated with starters on these guys returning to play,” Counsell said. “How many times are we going to have him go out and pitch (on a rehab assignment) before he pitches for us? It’s a great thing to say, hey, he’s pitched, let’s go pitch him, but short starts impact us later so we’ve got to stretch starters out … to not adversely impact after them.”

Cubs pitcher Ben Brown delivers against the Giants during a Cactus League game on Feb. 24, 2024, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)
Cubs pitcher Ben Brown delivers against the Giants during a Cactus League game on Feb. 24, 2024, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Brown is wearing No. 32 in honor of Hall of Fame pitcher Roy Halladay, whom he loved to watch pitch as a Blue Jay and then got to know a bit when Halladay worked with Phillies minor-leaguers at their Florida complex as a mental skills coach.

“The fact I was able to get a cool number blows my mind,” Brown said, smiling.

Brown’s performance in spring training firmly put him on the radar for an early-season call-up. He was stellar in five Cactus League outings, allowing one run, five walks and striking out 12 in 14 innings. Brown, 24, believes his two spring starts with the Cubs on March 16 and 23 after he had been sent to minor-league camp and optioned to Iowa were especially key to getting this big-league chance.

“I think it was really important to show the Cubs I can get through a lineup and fill up the strike zone a little bit better than I did last year,” said Brown, who was acquired at the 2021 trade deadline from the Phillies for reliever David Robertson. “For a person in my position, those games are really important. … I’m thankful that I got that opportunity to make those starts — who knows where I’d be today if I didn’t get the chance to have a start or two in spring training.”

The Cubs will need more from their offense as they try to withstand being without two of their starters for at least the next 10 days.

Jameson Taillon (back strain) isn’t eligible to come off the IL until April 9. He threw 32 pitches in a two-inning live batting practice Friday at the team’s complex in Mesa, Ariz., and is scheduled to throw another live BP there Tuesday to build up to 45-50 pitches. Taillon is expected to go to Triple A for a four- to five-inning start on April 7. At that point, the Cubs will assess where Taillon is at in his progression before determining the next step.

Taillon did not get into a Cactus League game so he doesn’t have much of a workload base to build off. Counsell estimated Taillon would make another rehab start after his April 7 outing but kept open the possibility the veteran instead woudl rejoin the rotation afterward. Taillon flew to Texas to spend the final two games with his teammates and to throw a bullpen Sunday so pitching coach Tommy Hottovy can get eyes on him.

Taillon is looking forward to seeing Brown in action after the strong impression he made in camp.

“He was talked about a lot even among players being a guy who’s kind of blown us away and involved in a lot of really good pitching discussions and paying attention and watching other guys throw bullpens and all that kind of stuff,” Taillon said Saturday. “To be a 33rd-rounder, obviously he put in the work.”

Adbert Alzolay understands what it takes to have success in the majors both as a starter and reliever. Alzolay described Brown as a smart kid who asks the right questions. As a power pitcher featuring a fastball that hit 96 mph in the spring with a great curveball and changeup to play off it, Alzolay expects Brown to find success no matter what role the Cubs use him in.

“He’s always open to learning new things and the guy is a competitor,” Alzolay told the Tribune. “He wants to go out there and attack the hitters. You can see that from the get go as soon as he gets on the mound.”



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