PITTSBURGH -- Adbert Alzolay's first Major League trouble spelled a tough night of pitching for the Cubs on Monday, as they surrendered 23 hits in an 18-5 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park. The lopsided contest ended up playing host to Daniel Descalso pitching in the seventh and Craig Kimbrel’s second appearance this year, this time with a 10-run deficit.
The night started with an about-face in results from Alzolay, who hadn’t shown any issues starting games in his first two outings. But the Cubs’ No. 4 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, saw his early-season success halted in the first four batters of the game.
Alzolay allowed two hits and a walk in his first three batters before Josh Bell -- a 2019 T-Mobile Home Run Derby participant -- cranked a long homer to right off the Cubs' starter, who was called up on June 20. Alzolay allowed a single and hit Jung Ho Kang with a pitch, but was able to work around that damage with two strikeouts to end a 35-pitch inning.
After a leadoff double by Adam Frazier in the second, Alzolay got two ground-ball outs, but Bell, who lifted three homers on the day, jumped on him again with a two-run shot to left. Colin Moran doubled in another run, then Alzolay was pulled after 2 2/3 innings when he allowed a second baserunner in the third.
“To me, I just kind of go to the next game now,” Alzolay said. “Just forget about what happened tonight. Go to the next game.”
The two homers he allowed to Bell that contributed six of the seven runs Alzolay allowed came on a center-cut four-seam fastball, which Alzolay called “a cookie,” and a competitive first-pitch curveball that snipped the bottom of the zone.
“We were just following the plan, to stay away from him,” Alzolay said. “But then, I missed a pitch. … That pitch was supposed to be away, and I threw it inside on his power side, so he just got a pitch to hit a homer right there.”
On the whole, the rookie largely cleaned up his command mistakes from his last start, when he issued four walks. But the Pirates, who have been exceptional at putting the ball in play of late, capitalized on pitches in the middle-to-lower portion of the strike zone. Eight of their 10 hits came from that portion of the zone.
And the problems were exacerbated by an ineffective changeup, a pitch which Alzolay said he “didn’t have.” Four of those offerings missed the strike zone in quite different spots, and the other was lined for a single by Elias Diaz to lead off the third.
“It’s just one of those days where you feel good, but [also] you feel like you don’t have your best pitches that day,” Alzolay said. “I feel like sometimes, everything was working really good. I threw good pitches, too, and they got a hit.”
After the Pirates put up 13 runs on 18 hits through six innings, the Cubs tried to help manage the bullpen’s workload for this four-game series by sending Daniel Descalso to the mound for the seventh.
But the bullpen wasn’t totally done for the night. The Cubs turned to Kimbrel in the eighth, wanting to “get his arm moving,” as Cubs manager Joe Maddon put it; Kimbrel had just one appearance since signing as a free agent on June 7.
Kimbrel struck out two, but allowed homers to leadoff pinch-hitter Jose Osuna and Bell, both of which came on middle-zone four-seamers. Maddon said he recognized that Kimbrel “came in in a situation that he’s not used to,” and that likely played a factor into the issues. But it wasn’t the manager's focus.
“They hit some balls well, but I’m not concerned,” Maddon said. “I went up to him afterwards, and I asked him, ‘How’s your arm doing?’ He said, ‘Good.’ And that’s all we’re concerned about, that [he feels] well.”
The 23 hits the Cubs allowed were the most since Aug. 2, 2010, when they gave up 26 to the Brewers in an 18-1 loss.
With the loss, Chicago dropped out of first place in the National League Central, with the Brewers gaining a full-game lead after an 8-6 win over the Reds. The Cubs have not won a road series since May 17-19, when they took two out of three in D.C.
They’re expected to gain Kyle Hendricks on Tuesday, which should provide a boost for a team in need of starting pitching depth, now that Cole Hamels has landed on the injured list with a right oblique strain and Alzolay has shown his first signs of struggle.
Maddon doesn’t want any recent trends to make the team reactive with its pitching plans, but he recognizes the weight of the big absences the Cubs have dealt with on the bump.
“We need Cole back to make this whole thing work properly,” Maddon said. “We need Kyle back. Those are two of the better pitchers in the National League. We missed Cole’s last start, and we missed a couple of Kyle's.
“It’s a moment. You’ve got to fight through this moment.”