Brewers’ patient approach spoils Adbert Alzolay’s strong start
Adbert Alzolay has seen the Brewers lineup enough times that he’s starting to figure them out.
In his third start of the season, all of them against Milwaukee, the young righty attacked the Brewers, notching a season-high 7 strikeouts. Each outing, even though it’s the same team, has allowed Alzolay to be challenged, particularly because Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell stacks the lineup with left-handed hitters.
“I really like that I faced this team three times in a row cause they’ve been putting a lot of lefties in the lineup against me,” Alzolay said. “Being able to start having those at-bats against all those lefties early in the season, I think, I really like it. It’s a challenge [for] me and I think I’m getting better to mixing and executing my pitches with lefties.”
The Brewers in turn, though, have seen Alzolay plenty, forcing David Ross to be a little more careful with him in the Cubs 4-3 loss on Saturday.
In the 5th inning, Keston Hiura hit a lead-off double, Alzolay induced two outs and then walked Corey Ray. That made Ross turn to Rex Brothers. The Brewers kept their patient approach against Brothers, forcing 2 straight walks to score a run and Tyrone Taylor was hit by a pitch to tie the game. Both runs were credited to Alzolay.
“There was a lot that went into that,” Ross said. “The number was a factor. The fact that Kolten Wong was swinging the bat well and was taking some good passes off him was a factor; third time through the lineup; getting on the backend of his pitch count; Ray, the pinch-hitter, going 0-2 to a walk was a factor. It just looked like he was a little bit out of sync.
“I feel like we had a little bit of insurance with Rex, had back-to-back lefties that we liked even after Kolten for Rex and it just wasn’t his day.”
That marked a sour ending to an otherwise strong performance. Alzolay permitted just 2 hits and walked 2 in 4.2 innings of work. He faced some trouble early on, permitting a leadoff double to Kolten Wong and walking Omar Narváez to start the game. Alzolay forced a flyout, struck out Travis Shaw and induced a lineout to escape the jam.
“It was huge,” Alzolay said. “I do love those situations. Whenever you get in trouble, just go in there and compete with your stuff. I feel that that’s what I did in that outing in that 1st inning.”
Alzolay rallied by striking out the side in the 2nd inning and he had no problem facing the Brewers again, especially with his experiences in 2020.
“For me, you can face the same guys 100 times in a row, you know,” Alzolay said. “I think I did it last year with a lot of guys down there in the alternate site. It doesn’t bother me that I’m facing guys all over again. Just executing the game plan at that moment.”
Ross’ day was ended a little earlier than the rest of the Cubs on Saturday. Home plate umpire Cory Blaser ejected Ross in the 9th inning for arguing a strike call on Jake Marisnick.
“That looked extremely high,” Ross said. “I haven’t seen the replay yet, but I mean listen, we’ve got our leadoff guy on, we’ve got a guy who hits lefties pretty good for us, who’s been hot, an 0-0 call with a closer out there, a guy you wanna get down in the zone, that’s just, that, I watched Cory all day, have a ton of respect for him — that was a bad call, plain and simple. Obviously it’s one pitch, but in that moment, that just can’t happen in my opinion.”
Marisnick, who was pinch hitting, took a high, first-pitch fastball from Josh Hader that Blaser ruled a strike. Ross was tossed arguing the call. Hader struck out Marisnick and Ian Happ before inducing a fly out from Willson Contreras to end the game.
“Every pitch matters,” Ross said. That’s why we fight. That’s why framing’s so important. That’s why pitch-calling’s so important. That’s why it’s heightened in the playoffs. That’s why we put so much importance and we yell and scream from the dugout at times. The strike zone’s important. 1-0 is a lot different than 0-1. Period.”
Managing off days
If there’s one aspect of managing that’s new to second-year manager David Ross, it’s learning how to keep his players fresh.
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Ross could get away with pushing a player an extra day or two to try and squeeze more out of the player in a rushed environment. This season, Ross has resisted the urge to press in favor of giving players a day-off, knowing there’s still over 5 months of baseball left.
“It’s a balance,” Ross said. “I wouldn’t say I have any secret formula that tells me. I try to watch with my eyes, I try to watch the matchups, try to see personnel-wise who the bench guy might be that might matchup well as I’m looking forward to getting a player a day off.”
The benefit for Ross the last few days has been the fact that there’s been relatively no drop-off between the regular starters and those players that have come in for them. On Friday, Ross gave Ian Happ a day off and Marisnick had a 5-RBI day, going 2-for-3 with a home run and a double.
Starting Marisnick in center was partially a matchup reason, facing a lefty in Brett Anderson, but Anderson lasted just 4 batters Friday and the Cubs turned to a righty in his stead. Marisnick still produced against the right-hander.
“Try to find matchup when it comes to starting, but sometimes in a game like that it’s nice to let those guys get at-bats off the right side, too,” Ross said. “Sometimes that locks guys in being able to face lefty-lefty or righty-righty matchups that may not be your strength, but sometimes that can work in your favor, especially when you feel good and have a little bit of confidence like he got [yesterday which] was nice.”
As a former catcher, Ross knows that workload and days off work differently for backstops just given their workload.
But with Contreras, Ross faces a peculiar issue.
“I think you wanna play your best players as often as possible,” Ross said. “He’s one of our better players.”
So, Ross looks for windows to try and decrease the workload on Contreras. Friday’s game was a perfect opportunity for him to find a window of rest, as small as it may be. Ross took Contreras out of the game in the 7th inning, with the game well in hand to rest him.
“It’s nice to be able to get him out of there a little early yesterday and have [Austin] Romine take some of the innings off [him],” Ross said. “Having Austin back and getting some playing time will be good as well and getting him in there when we find a good matchup and get him some spots to get Willson [a day off]. I try to plan it where we give him as much time in between games as we can.”