Alzolay's start, Cubs' loss turn on dime

April 25th, 2021

CHICAGO -- Nico Hoerner dropped his bat and hustled up the first-base line. The Cubs’ shortstop had just worked a seven-pitch leadoff walk against Brewers closer Josh Hader, making a game-winning rally feel possible on Saturday.

One pitch later in the ninth, Cubs manager David Ross was on the field arguing with home-plate umpire Cory Blaser. In the final moments of a 4-3 loss to Milwaukee at Wrigley Field on Saturday, Ross was ejected for arguing a critical high strike call and Chicago's would-be comeback soon collapsed.

"Every pitch matters," Ross said. "Listen, every pitch matters. That's why we fight."

And in a tightly-contested game between the National League Central rivals, two moments, in particular, mattered. The end result was the Brewers halting the Cubs' four-game winning streak and robbing the North Siders of a chance to move into first place in the division.

Pulling Alzolay
There will be a time when is given more freedom to work out of his own jam even as his pitch count climbs. Saturday was not one of those moments.

Alzolay cruised through his first four innings, escaping a two-on, none-out jam in the first and then setting down a dozen batters in a row, including seven strikeouts. The righty's slider in particular was sharp, helping him limit lefties to a 1-for-9 showing.

"Adbert had a great game," Ross said.

With the Cubs holding a 2-0 lead in the fifth, Alzolay allowed a leadoff double to Keston Hiura. Later, with two outs, he walked rookie Corey Ray, who worked the free pass in his first career plate appearance after initially facing an 0-2 count.

“Definitely, the competitor in me was a little bit upset in that moment," Alzolay said. "Yes, I got pretty upset [with] myself, because I feel that I got myself into that situation, you know?"

Alzolay's pitch count stood at 83, and a hot-hitting lefty bat, Kolten Wong, was due to hit. The developing starter had not logged that many pitches since his first career start on June 25, 2019 (87 pitches). Alzolay's outing Saturday was also his first for the Cubs since April 12.

With runners on the corners and multiple left-handed bats at the front end of the Brewers' lineup, Ross handed the ball to lefty Rex Brothers.

"There was a lot that went into that," Ross said. "It just looked like he was a little bit out of sync."

The move backfired with Alzolay watching from the Cubs' dugout. Brothers walked Wong and Omar Narváez, forcing in a run. The lefty then hit Tyrone Taylor with a pitch with the bases still loaded, pulling the game into a 2-2 deadlock.

"It just wasn't his day," Ross said of Brothers. "[Alzolay] will continue to develop moments where we'll let him work through that."

Marisnick vs. Hader
When Ross gives one of his stars a day off from starting, the manager often does all he can to avoid using the player in the game. Such was the case Saturday for Javier Báez, who had a bat in his hand in the ninth but stayed on the bench.

"Báez had today off," Ross reiterated after the loss.

That at least partially explained why Jake Marisnick -- not Báez -- pinch-hit in the No. 9 slot against Hader in the bottom of the ninth, following Hoerner's walk. It is worth noting, however, that Marisnick has also been swinging the bat well, especially against lefties (156 wRC+ in a limited 2021 sample).

With the Cubs trailing, 4-3, Hader started Marisnick off with a fastball, which popped into the glove of Narváez above the strike zone. Blaser deemed the elevated offering a strike, and Marisnick spun around in the batter's box in frustration. Soon, Ross was ejected after barking from the dugout.

The manager took to the field and aired some grievances before departing the scene.

"That looked extremely high," Ross said. "We've got our leadoff guy on. We've got a guy who hits lefty pretty good for us who's been hot. An 0-0 call with the closer out there, a guy that you want to get down in the zone, I mean, that's just ... I watched Cory all day. I have a ton of respect for him. That was a bad call. I mean, plain and simple."

Marisnick went on to strike out, swinging at two sliders (one at the bottom edge of the zone and another far below it). Next up was Ian Happ, who (perhaps influenced by the disputed call) struck out swinging on a 1-2 fastball that was at the top of the zone.

Willson Contreras then flew out to end the game.

"Those are [the] kind of comeback wins," Ross said, "that can really keep you going when you're playing really well. So, obviously, it's one pitch. But, in that moment, that just can't happen, in my opinion."