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After Adbert Alzolay’s 9th inning woes, Héctor Neris picks up save for Cubs in doubleheader split

1 month agoAndy Martinez

Craig Counsell had scripted the opening game of Saturday’s doubleheader perfectly with his bullpen.

But Adbert Alzolay’s 9th-inning woes continued.

Alzolay allowed a 1-out, 2-run home run to Bryan De La Cruz in the 9th inning, incurring his fourth blown save of the season, as the Cubs dropped the opener of Saturday’s split doubleheader against the Marlins 3-2. The Cubs bounced back in the night cap, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Marlins 5-3. Héctor Neris picked up the save for the Cubs in that game.  

“It’s just not keeping the ball in the park,” Counsell said of Alzolay’s woes after game 1. “I mean, obviously the home run for the closer in tight situations is going to hurt you and it hurt us today.”

The 29-year-old righty was one of the revelations in the Cubs’ bullpen in 2023, where he emerged as the team’s closer, picking up 22 saves in 25 appearances. But he’s struggled with the long ball since the season began — all 5 of his earned runs this season have come via 4 home runs.

“That’s been the challenge,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Friday morning. “Obviously he’s had some really good outings, but certainly three different times he’s given up homers. Getting him to — I don’t wanna say execute — but I think some of those pitches, they’re in the zone and it should be below the zone.”

Saturday’s home run was a 95-mph sinker on a 2-0 count that started over the plate before breaking slightly in — but it still caught enough of the zone for De La Cruz to handle.

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In the night cap, the Cubs used a 4-run rally in the 6th inning to beat the Marlins. Cody Bellinger started the scoring with a solo home run off Roddery Muñoz, who was making his major-league debut. The rookie settled in and stymied the Cubs’ offense through 5-plus innings of work. The Cubs did their damage against the Marlins’ bullpen to pick up a win after a tough loss in game 1. 

I think we got so many guys that have been through so many 162-game seasons that just you understand like crazy stuff happens in this game,” Bellinger said after game 2. “You’re gonna get punched in the face and you’re gonna have to get up and do it all over again. It’s a tough game and so you just got to continue to wake up and trust in each other and continue to play baseball.”

Neris tossed a scoreless 9th in the nightcap, working around a 1-out single from Avísail García and picking up his first save of the season. 

Alzolay’s position as the Cubs’ closer has certainly come into question after Saturday. The four blown saves are the differences between being 5 games over .500 at 13-8 or a glistening 17-4 record.

Who Counsell turns to fill that void will be an interesting development.

Mark Leiter Jr. has been the Cubs’ best relief option this season — he has yet to allow a run in 10.2 innings this season and has a 0.84 WHIP. But Leiter is so valuable as a leverage weapon, allowing Counsell to deploy him in almost any tricky situation.

Neris would likely be the clearest option for Counsell to turn to in the 9th if he decides to pivot from Alzolay. Neris has saved 89 games in his 11-season career. He’s struggled a bit to open the year, but he had a slow start in 2023 and turned into a key member of the Astros’ reliever corps with a 1.71 ERA.

Whatever direction Counsell chooses to go in, though, doesn’t mean Alzolay doesn’t have a role to play for the Cubs.

“We need Adbert to get outs,” Counsell said. “Regardless of where it is, we need Adbert to be an effective member of the bullpen and I strongly believe that he will be. We need outs [wherever] they come in the game.

“It obviously stings when it comes at the end of the game there, but we need outs and Adbert’s gonna get us big outs this year.”

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