Changeup key to Alzolay's successful debut

Hendricks plays catch, though no timeable for return; Kimbrel makes another Minor League appearance

June 22nd, 2019

CHICAGO -- There were four baseballs stacked in plastic cubes inside 's locker on Friday morning. One was the first pitch he threw as a Major Leaguer on Thursday and another was his first strikeout. The Cubs rookie pitcher also received the ball from striking out the side and the last out of the game.

That all added up to a memorable Major League debut for Alzolay, who picked up the win in Thursday's victory over the Mets. Over his four-plus innings, the righty showed off a strong fastball, while working to overcome a curveball that had less bite than in his recent starts for Triple-A Iowa. Alzolay did so by featuring a changeup that toyed with New York's hitters.

"That was really impressive," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I think he said after the game that was the best changeup he's had. Give [catcher ] credit as well. I think they both realized that his curveball had been fantastic the last three or four outings in Iowa, but it wasn't last night. I'm sure the adrenaline had something to do with that."

The 24-year-old Alzolay mixed in 13 changeups, generating three swinging strikes, including one to strike out and another to punch out . The Mets had two groundouts on the only changeups put into play, and Alzolay totaled three strikeouts with the offering.

Alzolay said the reliance on the offspeed pitch was partially an in-game adjustment, but it was also something he and Contreras discussed before the game. According to Statcast, the Mets have a .342 slugging percentage (24th in MLB) off changeups and a .317 slugging percentage (28th) off right-handed changeups this season.

"We were just listening to the report," Alzolay said. "The report said that pitch would be a really good pitch to use, and I was feeling throwing confident to throw it. Willson was putting the sign down, and I was like, 'OK, let's do it.'"

Alzolay said the wealth of scouting information at his fingertips was a change from pitching in the Minors.

"It's way different. Here, everything is more specific," Alzolay said. "They'll show when you're behind in the count, ahead in the count, when the count is even, what pitch you have to throw. What's your best option to throw? I really like it."

Hendricks plays catch

played light catch prior to Friday's game against the Mets, but Hoyer reiterated that there is no established throwing program or timetable for return yet for the sidelined starter. Hendricks was placed on the 10-day injured list on Saturday due to an impingement in his right shoulder.

"The initial shut-down has been effective, and he's feeling good," Hoyer said Friday. "He went through a full shoulder workout [Thursday]. That was good, so he was going to play catch today. We haven't gone ahead with a progression yet, because this was a big step and then we'll see how he feels tomorrow after throwing. But it's certainly heading in the right direction."

started on Thursday in place of Hendricks with Alzolay offering multiple innings out of the bullpen. The Cubs are still working through whether they will take the same approach when Hendricks' slot rolls around again on Tuesday. Another option is using Alzolay as a sixth starter to provide an extra day of rest for the veteran starters.

"We'll continue to talk through scenarios with it," Hoyer said. "We've been pretty open. You want your starters at some point to get a refresher, get a little bit more time between starts. It's a long season. And we haven't had tons of days off, so I think between now and the [All-Star] break, we'll definitely think through ways to give guys a little extra time."

Kimbrel plan

Cubs closer logged one inning for Iowa on Friday night, marking his second game appearance since signing a multiyear contract with Chicago. Kimbrel threw 19 pitches (12 strikes) and induced three groundouts, working around one double allowed. Hoyer noted that there is a chance that Friday's outing will be part of back-to-back games for Kimbrel, depending on how the right-hander feels and recovers. Kimbrel threw just eight pitches in an outing for Iowa on Tuesday.

"Again, we're really trying to avoid the rush component of this whole thing," Cubs manager Joe Maddon added. "When you talk to a veteran player like that, to me, it's really important to listen to the player, too. When things are written down on paper, use a pencil on this one."

Worth noting

• Maddon gave setup man an additional day off on Thursday, but he said the pitcher was "ready to rock and roll" on Friday. The manager noted that Strop's pitch velocity dropped in his most recent outing on Tuesday against the White Sox, adding that all indications are that the righty's past hamstring issues are not bothering him.

"'I feel great,' that's his quote. So I believe him," Maddon said.

• Reliever , who is on the 60-day injured list due to a right shoulder issue, started his second Minor League rehab assignment on June 1, meaning his stint will expire at the end of the month. Through eight appearances this month, Barnette has turned in 7 1/3 shutout innings while holding hitters to a 1-for-23 showing.

"He's doing well. I'm hearing good stuff right now," Maddon said. "Again, what I like is that you're seeing this proliferation of arms right now. Everything's building up in a good way, because stuff's going to happen. You can't have enough of that. So the fact that he's doing so well is very encouraging."