Cubs notebook: The Return of El Mago, Alzolay’s big night and a bullpen swap
After a three-game absence, Javy Báez returned to the Cubs lineup Thursday night for the series finale in Atlanta.
The Cubs were certainly happy to welcome back Báez’s bat as they halted a streak of back-to-back shutouts (and three in the last four games) with a 9-3 victory. He tripled, scored a run and drove in another with a sacrifice fly.
He had been itching to get back on the field after suffering a minor hamstring strain in Sunday’s game.
“I knew I had to take one or two days because we took the MRI and that doesn’t really lie,” he said. “But if we were in the playoffs, I would’ve played for sure.”
Báez has worked closely with the trainers all week and says he feels close to normal. The hardest part was not dealing with the injury but having to watch from the sideline.
“It’s been really boring,” he said. “Obviously I’m trying to take the positive — watching the game and learning from the game. But I hate being out of the lineup and just watching the game. I need to be out there with the boys.”
Prior to the hamstring issue, Báez was turning a bit of a corner offensively. In the four games before the layoff, he was 6-for-17 with 2 homers, 5 RBI and only 4 strikeouts.
“I was seeing the ball good,” he said. “Before that, I was thinking too much. I was trying to get my timing right and just not seeing the ball. Right now, I’m just worried about seeing the ball and not worried about my timing. That will come. I feel pretty good right now.”
Alzolay’s big night
It was an evening of firsts for Adbert Alzolay.
He notched his first quality start of his career, allowing 2 runs in 6 innings while striking out 6. After the Cubs offense gave him an early lead, he attacked the Braves hitters and walked just 1 batter on the night.
“Impressive,” Matt Duffy said. “His stuff — I put it up there with anybody in baseball. Just the way it moves. I faced him in a live BP right before the season started and was thoroughly impressed with the pure stuff. I think when he’s aggressive like he was tonight, you see how difficult it is for hitters. He was really sharp tonight.”
Alzolay threw his slider 54% of the time Thursday night and induced 10 swings-and-misses.
“His stuff is unbelievable,” Jake Marisnick said. “I faced him a few times in live ABs and it’s really good. He’s got kind of a chip on his shoulder and a swagger about him and it’s fun to play behind. He gets out there and he gets after guys and that’s what you want out of a pitcher. He’s got plus stuff.”
Alzolay also recorded his first career hit — a single down the right-field line:
Thursday was also the first time all season Alzolay faced a team that wasn’t the Milwaukee Brewers. He pitched against the Cubs’ division rivals each of his first 3 starts.
He now has a 4.71 ERA and 0.90 WHIP on the young season.
The Cubs shook up their bullpen prior to Thursday’s game, calling up young left-hander Justin Steele and designating veteran Brandon Workman for assignment.
The Cubs were hoping the 32-year-old Workman would be a valuable piece to the bullpen this season but he has struggled to the tune of a 6.75 ERA and 2.38 WHIP.
He was one of the top relievers in the game in 2019 with the Red Sox (10-1, 1.88 ERA, 16 saves, 15 holds) but the Cubs haven’t seen that version of him.
“It’s just a situation where he’s not in a place to perform the way he and we want him to perform and we need to make a move and get somebody up here that has pitched a little bit better and try to see what they can do,” David Ross said.
Ross played with Workman in Boston in 2013-14 and believed the right-hander would get some big outs for the Cubs this season.
“That’s the worst part of this job,” Ross said. “It’s a friend, a teammate, someone that I have a ton of respect for and the way that he works and the effort that he put in and gave us every time he came to work.
“Whether he was doing good or bad, he was the same guy and goes out there and competes to the best of his ability. Those conversations suck really hard.”
The team signed Workman at the start of spring training.
Steele, 25, impressed in his first stint with the team earlier this month. He struck out 4 batters in 3.1 innings and allowed only 2 hits and a walk.