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Alzolay stellar in MLB debut, nets win for Cubs

Club's No. 4 prospect K's 5, allows 1 hit in 4-plus innings out of 'pen
@MLBastian
June 21, 2019

CHICAGO -- Adbert Alzolay kept repeating the word amazing. Whether it was the moment he got the news or the phone call to his parents, or walking into the Cubs' clubhouse and seeing his last name stitched across the back of a Major League uniform, there has been a flood

CHICAGO -- Adbert Alzolay kept repeating the word amazing. Whether it was the moment he got the news or the phone call to his parents, or walking into the Cubs' clubhouse and seeing his last name stitched across the back of a Major League uniform, there has been a flood of emotions for the pitcher.

"It's just a lot of feelings going right now," Alzolay said. "It feels good to be here with the Cubs."

Prior to Thursday's 7-4 win over the Mets, the Cubs recalled Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa. Tyler Chatwood started the opener of the four-game set with New York, but Alzolay was told to be ready for multiple innings of relief. The young righty entered the game in the fifth and wasted little time showing why the Cubs are so excited about his potential.

Box score

Alzolay punctuated his first inning of work with a swinging strikeout of Michael Conforto via a changeup. The right-hander then struck out the side in the sixth, flashing a hard fastball and showing off the breaking ball and changeup that Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has raved about.

Outwardly, Alzolay was composed. Inside, his heart was thumping.

“When I looked at the hitter, the first hitter,” Alzolay said, “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, everything is coming true right now. The thing I always dreamed as a kid is just coming true.'"

Over four-plus innings, Alzolay racked up five strikeouts and did not yield a hit until Todd Frazier belted a leadoff home run in the ninth. The rookie faced one more batter and was lifted by manager Joe Maddon, giving the Wrigley Field crowd a chance to offer the kid a standing ovation. Alzolay responded by raising his cap skyward.

“He was the happiest pitcher on the face of the earth at that point,” Maddon said with a smile.

And to top it off -- thanks to a six-run outburst in the third and a seventh-inning homer by Javier Báez -- Alzolay picked up the win in his Major League debut. After the victory, he was able to talk to his parents, who watched the entire game from their home in Venezuela. Tears flowed.

The 24-year-old Alzolay was on a trajectory to the big leagues last year, but a right lat injury limited him to eight Triple-A starts and cost him a shot at reaching The Show. Alzolay's spring was delayed by a similar issue prior to this season, but the Cubs took a conservative approach and the young pitcher has blossomed in recent weeks.

During Iowa's recent trip to Sacramento, Triple-A manager Marty Pevey summoned Alzolay to his office.

"Hey kid, you're going to the big leagues."

"I called my dad and my mom, all my family," said Alzolay, who is the Cubs’ No. 4-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline. "They were super excited, crying. I started crying with them. It's just a lot of things."

Alzolay's rise to the Majors is also an important moment for the Cubs, who signed him out of Venezuela in December 2012. During Epstein's tenure, Chicago has developed an impressive list of position players, but the organization has faced criticism for the lack of homegrown pitching. Alzolay has a chance to alter the course of that annual storyline.

"He has the kind of ability that he could transform a group," Maddon said. "I think this is the perfect situation for him to morph into a team like this."

Overall, Alzolay has posted a 3.09 ERA in six starts for Iowa this season, but he stumbled out of the blocks. The right-hander has spun a 1.93 ERA over his five most recent starts, amassing 40 strikeouts against three walks in 28 innings in that stretch. That includes 20 hits allowed to go with a .489 opponents' OPS.

"Right now, he's pitching extremely well," Epstein said this past weekend in Los Angeles. "His curveball's been as good as I've ever seen it the last four or five starts. He's getting a ton of swings and misses with it. He's pitching really well up in the zone with his fastball. His changeup's really come on, too. So, three good weapons for him and pitching with great rhythm and a lot of confidence."

Epstein was discussing Alzolay in the wake of the Cubs placing starter Kyle Hendricks on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder issue. Chatwood got the initial start in place of Hendricks -- whose timeline for return is unclear -- but Epstein did not rule out cycling more than one pitcher through that slot.

Another scenario being discussed behind the scenes is potentially using a sixth starter to build an extra day of rest for the veteran rotation arms, given that Chicago is in the midst of a 17-game stretch with no off-days.

"We've already discussed different methods in trying to keep him here, but we'll see him today," Maddon said before the game. "We'll definitely look at it on a daily or day-by-day basis, regarding how this all plays out. I can't tell you what's going to happen the next time through."

Epstein also noted that the Cubs had been discussing promoting Alzolay even before Hendricks was shelved with the shoulder injury.

"He's earned it," added Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy. "It'd be really cool for a lot of fans that don't know him, to get to know him. He's such a poised young man."

Alzolay said he was focusing on his starts at Iowa -- not on whether the Cubs would be calling.

"Everything's just coming together right now," Alzolay said.

And it all came together according to script against the Mets.

“The best thing that ever happened to me,” said Alzolay, whose voice boomed with excitement after the win. “All the people were cheering my name and all that. You know, just go out there, did my job, did my part. We got the game, which is amazing.”

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.