Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele falls to the ground,...

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele falls to the ground, holding his left leg during the fifth inning of the team's baseball game against the Texas Rangers, Thursday, March 28, 2024 in Arlington, Texas. Credit: AP/Gareth Patterson

ARLINGTON, Texas — Chicago Cubs pitcher Justin Steele exited his first career opening-day start with a left hamstring strain after going down awkwardly while fielding a sacrifice bunt in the fifth inning against World Series champion Texas on Thursday night.

Steele came off the mound and lunged while reaching to pick up a ball. After tossing the ball to first base to get out Leody Taveras, Steele went down to the ground in foul territory, grabbing the back of his left leg above his knee.

After being visited by an athletic trainer, Steele got up on his own and walked slowly toward the Cubs dugout. Julian Merryweather replaced Steele and got out of the inning to keep the game tied at 1.

“I was fielding the bunt or whatever and when I was leaning over backhanding the ball, kind of felt something grab,” Steele said. “Just kind of went down with it and didn’t want to do anything to risk further injury.”

Manager Craig Counsell said Steele would have an MRI on Friday morning, and a stint on the injured list is likely.

Steele struck out six and allowed three hits over 4 2/3 innings. He was 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA in 30 starts last season, when he was an All-Star and finished fifth in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

“You’re thinking that it’s just a shame,” Counsell said. “He’s pitching really, really well. Obviously, an important member of the team. This is a part of a baseball season. Injuries are going to happen, and you’ve got to rebound from ’em, recover from ’em.”

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele lies on the ground,...

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele lies on the ground, holding his left leg during the fifth inning of the team's baseball game against the Texas Rangers, Thursday, March 28, 2024 in Arlington, Texas. Credit: AP/Gareth Patterson

His first two strikeouts came against Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, the first two hitters in the Rangers lineup and the top finishers in last season’s AL MVP voting behind unanimous winner Shohei Ohtani.

“It was good to get out there and get the first one under your belt, you know opening day, all the jitters,” Steele said. “Get on the horse again and have a speedy recovery from this and get right back out there.”

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