Cubs eager to see more from Alzolay

March 3rd, 2021

MESA, Ariz. -- The day that was pitching at the Cubs' alternate training site last year was not a fun one for the hitters. Without a large group of position players available, and Alzolay staying stretched out as a starter, it meant a heap of at-bats for those on hand.

"Oh, my gosh, Adbert had my number," Cubs prospect Brennen Davis said with a laugh recently. "He would just mow us down."

During Tuesday's 3-2 Cactus League win over the Royals, Alzolay was at it again, if only for 10 pitches in his spring debut. The right-hander faced four batters, threw seven strikes and finished his outing with a slider to Ryan O'Hearn, who could not halt his swing in time.

It was a brief glimpse into what the Cubs hope to see from Alzolay in the season ahead, though his place in the pitching puzzle remains to be seen. To be clear, Alzolay is competing for a spot in the Opening Day rotation, but nothing about the starting staff is cut and dry as teams deal with the return of a 162-game schedule.

"Right now," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said, "I think you're going to see Adbert make starts during the season, and I think you'll probably see him make relief appearances during the season. I think you could say that about 10 guys we have in camp."

In terms of pure stuff, the 26-year-old Alzolay leads the way within a Cubs rotation that is built around precision, pitching to contact and pristine defense. The Sloan Park radar gun had Alzolay's fastball up to 95 mph against Kansas City. Most of Chicago's rotation registers in the 87-92 mph range.

Sitting at a table outside the Cubs' complex on Tuesday afternoon, Alzolay let out a laugh when asked if there is even more velocity to come.

"My arm is in a really good position right now," he replied. "I wasn't paying attention to how hard I was throwing today. I was just executing pitches. For sure, I'm pretty sure there is more in the tank."

It is the innings tank that the Cubs have to to start planning for right now.

Alzolay logged 21 1/3 innings in the Majors last season and had 81 2/3 innings between MLB and the Minors in 2019. In no professional season has the righty -- impacted by some health setbacks along the way -- exceeded 120 1/3 frames. Targeting 120 innings in the season ahead would seem realistic.

So, the Cubs will need to find ways to control Alzolay's workload, while still keeping him working consistently. Maybe that will be via shorter starts, or piggyback appearances out of the bullpen. If Alzolay gains a fourth Minor League option (the Cubs are still awaiting clarity on that front), he could stay on a schedule between levels.

Alzolay said the 10-pitch, one-inning start on Tuesday was by design.

"We have a plan," Alzolay said. "We just want to take it easy during Spring Training, you know? Because to be honest, the innings that matter are during the [season]. Here, it's just like, just work, do my job over there [in the game] and then whatever I have to work on, I know that I can do it all in my bullpen [session]."

What all parties would love to avoid is a situation where Alzolay has to be shut down before the end of the season, especially if the Cubs are in a playoff chase.

"If I'm healthy, I'm pretty sure I'm going to keep pitching," said Alzolay, who had a 2.95 ERA with 29 strikeouts in six appearances for the Cubs last year. "Because at the end of the day, we just want to win. So if I'm healthy, I know there is a lot of possibilities that I can keep pitching."

This spring, Alzolay has been spending a lot of time working with Jake Arrieta, picking his brain and learning from his routine. The young pitcher has been continuing to hone the slider that he added at the South Bend, Ind., site last year to complement his fastball, curve and changeup.

Alzolay has been impressing the Cubs so far in camp, picking up where he left off with his strong showing down the stretch last season.

"I'm just looking for him to continue to build off what we've already seen," Cubs manager David Ross said. "At this point for him, it's about going out and competing on a daily basis.

"He's gone through the prospect journey. Now, it's time to take that step to be a big leaguer, which I think he is. And I think he thinks he is, which is always very nice to see."