Luke Little impressing with sweeping slider, but overall command needs work

Chicago
By Chicago 4 Min Read

Cubs rookie left-hander Luke Little is built like a truck and has a fastball that sits in the mid-to-high 90s.

Still, the key to his career might be a big, slow, horizontally sweeping slider.

‘‘Obviously, I come from way out to the left,’’ Little said, miming his three-quarters arm slot. ‘‘So I am able to backdoor sliders a lot more to righties and I’m able to get more deception to lefties. I can throw it off the plate, and I can get more chases because it’s coming right [middle]. It looks like it’s going to be down the middle of the plate, but it’s going to bite.’’

When Little was a fourth-round draft pick in 2020, he touted a breaking ball he describes as a slurve with more depth. But last season at High-A South Bend, pitching coordinator Tony Cougole showed Little the grip for a sweeper, which got him off and running.

If you count his scoreless major-league debut alongside stops at three minor-league levels, Little’s 107 strikeouts in 64 2/3 innings this season are enough to earn some attention. That he hasn’t allowed an extra-base hit to a left-handed hitter all season suggests a possible future role even in a Cubs bullpen with an established hierarchy.

But with 42 walks, control historically has been a red flag in Little’s profile. The growth in his feel and command of the slider, which Little thinks has blossomed throughout the season, is a way to deal with it.

‘‘I think it’s my best command pitch, and I think I command it more than my fastball,’’ Little said. ‘‘If I’m not feeling my fastball, if I throw two bad fastballs, then I’ll throw the slider to get back in the zone. A lot of people think when they’re behind in the count, they have to nibble with fastballs. I feel comfortable that I can throw a slider in a 3-0 count.’’

With the wildness Little has dealt with at times, having a path out of it is important. After a spotless, two-strikeout debut Wednesday against the Giants, he also has some faith the slider works at this level.

‘‘When you go from striking out minor-leaguers to striking out Paul DeJong and J.D. Davis on it, it honestly makes you feel a lot better about the pitch,’’ Little said.

Steele’s wizardry

According to Statcast, Cubs ace Justin Steele has thrown six pitches 95 mph or faster all season.

None of them came Saturday, when Steele regained control of the National League ERA lead (2.49) with seven innings of one-run ball. He struck out six and walked one.

‘‘Velocity is extremely important,’’ pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. ‘‘But the way [the ball] moves — how deceptive you are and the way you’re able to make the ball move in different way — is ultimately what pitching is all about. He’s a testament to that.’’

As usual, Steele dominated with a pitch mix almost entirely made up of sliders and fastballs. But Hottovy explained that even the data on the average movement of Steele’s fastballs don’t tell the whole story because of his ability to vary the cut and ride on each pitch, as needed.

Greene sticks around

Two days after the Cubs designated him for assignment, veteran right-hander Shane Greene accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Iowa.

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