Alzolay ready to excel in new bullpen role

September 3rd, 2021

Adbert Alzolay wasn’t caught off guard when Cubs manager David Ross revealed he would be used out of the bullpen to finish the 2021 season.

While he recovered from a hamstring strain that landed him on the 10-day injured list on Aug. 14, Alzolay and his coaches took a look at his workload on the season. Alzolay was already approaching the most innings he’d thrown at any level in a single season (120 1/3 with High-A South Bend in 2016), even though he pitched exclusively as a starter this year. The Cubs thought the best way to make sure Alzolay finished the season healthy would be to use him in relief over the last month.

“I think the best thing that we can do for Adbert is get him through a full Major League season pitching, and so the best way to monitor his innings and keep him healthy for us is to have him down there in the bullpen,” Ross said. “[He’s] a real weapon. He's got length. He can come in in short bursts. There's a lot of options we can do with him down there, keeping him as sharp as possible.”

After he was activated from the IL on Wednesday afternoon, Alzolay was immediately thrust into his new role as Ross handed him the ball following five shutout innings from Justin Steele against the Twins. And if Alzolay’s showing against Minnesota’s lineup is any indication, “a real weapon” does a nice job of summing up what the Cubs have in their new reliever.

Alzolay tossed four scoreless innings of his own in Chicago’s 3-0 win, allowing just a single baserunner on Brent Rooker’s seventh-inning single. Of the 40 pitches he threw, 30 of them went for strikes, and not until the ninth inning did a Twins batter work a three-ball count.

Per Baseball Savant, Alzolay had a 45 percent whiff rate on Wednesday, with his four-seamer and slider picking up five and four swings-and-misses, respectively. He finished with five strikeouts on the night, and he even picked up the first save of his Major League career.

“That was a lot of fun, honestly, watching one of my best friends come in after me and shut the door the way he did,” said Steele, who also picked up his first ‘W’ as a big league starter. “A four-inning save doesn't happen very often. It was really special to watch.”

Ross said pregame that the Cubs plan on giving Alzolay two days of rest after his four-inning appearance -- he could still throw a light bullpen if he feels it’s necessary -- and then they’ll look to use him “for days three, four or five.” Alzolay would say he could’ve pitched in Thursday night’s series opener against the Pirates at Wrigley Field, too, but he also understands that the team’s main goal is to not use him more than necessary down the stretch.

“I mean, I'm feeling good. I didn't throw that many pitches, so to get used to that, I feel it won't take me that much time,” Alzolay said regarding having multiple days in between relief appearance. “Whatever. If I'm gonna be available in two days, three days, I'll be fine with it.”

As far as how Alzolay looked in his first time in a new role, Ross was more than impressed. He said Alzolay’s “stuff was absolutely electric last night,” and the team envisions using him in a number of ways over the last few weeks of the year.

Alzolay said he’s comfortable doing whatever the team asks of him moving forward, even making a spot start if needed in between his turns out of the ‘pen.

“I feel that I definitely can do that,” Alzolay said. “To be honest, since I've been in the big leagues, in '19 and last year, I was doing both, coming out of the bullpen and starting some games. I feel that I can do both.”

But going into next season, does Alzolay expect to be back in the rotation?

“Yeah, for sure,” he said.