Cubs News

As Cubs rethink closer’s role, Adbert Alzolay feels the support from his team

1 month agoTony Andracki

A long day at the ballpark got even longer for a pair of Cubs teammates Saturday.

But for a good reason.

After the Cubs split a doubleheader with the Marlins at Wrigley Field, closer Adbert Alzolay — who blew his 4th save of the season in Game 1 — received a phone call.

It was Dansby Swanson on the other line.

“We have such a great group of guys here,” Alzolay said on Sunday. “‘Coach’ Dansby Swanson called me last night and we had a really good chat. Those are the kinds of conversations you want to have in those moments.

“…Being able to have a guy like Dansby calling me like, ‘let’s talk about it. I just want to know what’s going on. I know something’s off, so just tell me what you’re feeling. Let me help you somehow.'”

Alzolay appreciated not only the phone call, but the gesture of support from one of his most high-profile teammates — a 2-time All-Star that has a World Series ring and been around a lot of winning.

That call carried into Sunday morning, where Alzolay and Swanson were in the cafeteria inside the Cubs clubhouse watching video together, trying to identify what was different about Alzolay last season compared to this year.

From Swanson’s perspective, he felt like it was an easy thing to do.

“You care about other people and it’s almost like, why wouldn’t you?” Swanson said. “You care about him and know that he’s obviously frustrated. Just want to talk.”

Swanson remembers other times in his career where he has been on the other end of phone calls from teammates or sitting in the clubhouse hours after a game ends, talking about baseball and life.

“I mean, we spend countless hours every day with each other,” Swanson said. “We spend more time with each other than we do with our own families. It’s just really impactful and meaningful to be able to have those kinds of bonds with teammates and just letting them know that you care.

“It feels like the right thing to do to be there for other people and they’re there for you.”

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As for the Cubs’ closer role, it likely won’t be Alzolay securing the final 3 outs of the game in the near future.

“I don’t think today he would be [the closer],” manager Craig Counsell said before Sunday’s game. “The job is always to be able to get 27 outs. The title of ‘closer’ is not an actual job. It’s just to get 3 outs generally or to get 4 outs or get the last outs of the game.

“And if in the long run, we have to do that in a different way, we’ll do it in a different way. If we can get Adbert back to it, that’d be great too.”

Sure enough, Alzolay pitched the 8th inning Sunday with the Cubs trailing by 3 runs. He worked a perfect frame, inducing a pair of groundouts and a swinging strikeout.

Héctor Neris got the save in Game 2 Saturday evening and he has plenty of 9th-inning experience (90 career saves).

Mark Leiter Jr. is also an option but he has been impactful as a lockdown reliever earlier in games.

Alzolay is 3-for-7 in save chances this season and all 4 blown saves have been due to the longball.

He gave up a solo homer in the 9th inning on Opening Day to Rangers pinch-hitter Travis Jankowski, who had 10 career longballs entering the game.

Then on April 8 in San Diego, Alzolay served up a 2-run shot to superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. that not only tied the game but gave the Padres a lead. In Arizona on April 16, Alzolay gave up a homer to Ketel Marte with 2 outs in the 9th inning of a 1-run game.

In Game 1 on Saturday, Alzolay entered with a 3-2 lead and surrendered a 2-run shot to Marlins DH Bryan De La Cruz.

“A lot of frustration,” Alzolay said. “When you know who you are and you truly believe who you are, you follow that path. [And it’s like], OK, now we need to figure it out because something is not working right.

“I know for a fact that the ball is not moving the way it used to move before. I truly believe that. I feel there is something that I’m doing different with my mechanics that are making me come out of the arm path that I used to follow for the last 5-6 years. It’s just going back to feeling that and finding that click.”

Alzolay feels like he is not tunneling his pitches well and opposing hitters have picked up on it and are taking advantage.

Last season, he allowed only 5 homers all year and went 22-for-25 in save chances. His 2.67 ERA and 1.02 WHIP were stellar and he became a big part of the Cubs’ success over the summer when the team went on a run.

For now, it appears as if Alzolay will work in some less pressure-packed situations.

Counsell may not like to use the “closer” label but players often like that title and there is certainly something different about getting the final 3 outs in a ballgame.

“We’ve got a pitcher in a situation [where] we got to get Adbert some confidence,” Counsell said. “That’s No. 1. And that comes from success. That comes from some good outings. That comes from getting good feedback after an outing and from the hitters.

“That’s the next job to try to get Adbert and we will try to do that.”

Counsell said he had a conversation with Alzolay about pitching in other situations beyond the 9th inning.

Regardless of what role he is in moving forward, Alzolay knows he has the support of his team.

“It tells you these guys really have your back here,” he said. “The whole locker room shows up for me, supports me. They believe who I am the same way I believe the player I am.

“Just having them have my back and tell me, ‘hold your head high, we know everything is gonna be fine. We know you’re gonna figure it out.’ It gives you a lot of positivity to take away.”

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