‘Oh heck yeah’: The Arrieta-Alzolay mentorship is the story of Cubs camp so far
MESA, Ariz. — Adbert Alzolay was ecstatic to find out the Cubs had signed Jake Arrieta for a second tour in Chicago.
After learning from Pedro Strop and José Quintana over the last couple years, Alzolay couldn’t wait to have another seasoned veteran around to shadow.
“When you have those kinds of guys with you, it’s like, ‘oh heck yeah, I want to know what he does,'” Alzolay said. “It’s huge that I can learn from a guy like Arrieta.”
Alzolay will start the Cubs’ second Cactus League game Tuesday, which will air on Marquee Sports Network. It will be the day after his 26th birthday and the promising young right-hander is vying for a spot in the Opening Day rotation.
Arrieta is a Cy Young winner and will be entering his 12th season with more than 1,500 MLB innings under his belt. His second half in 2015 was quite possibly the most dominant stretch by a pitcher in baseball history. He was a huge part of the Cubs’ championship rotation in 2016, winning a pair of games on the road in the World Series.
Arrieta also has a unique perspective as a former top prospect with the Baltimore Orioles who shuttled between Triple-A and the majors until his breakout season at age 28 in 2014.
Alzolay is soaking up all he can from Arrieta. The two have talked at length each day since arriving in Cubs camp, chatting about the mental side of pitching and what it takes to make it in the big leagues.
Early in spring training when Arrieta was done throwing a bullpen, he stuck around instead of heading for the showers or to get a workout in. As Alzolay threw his own bullpen, the veteran stood behind and watched, providing counsel and sharing his thoughts after.
When Arrieta threw a live bullpen inside Sloan Park against the Cubs’ star hitters last week, Alzolay tagged along. He was by Arrieta’s side during warm-ups in the bullpen and then stood in the first row of the stadium during the session. After Arrieta was done, he walked over and talked with Alzolay some more.
“I have the opportunity to talk about grips, what is your focus when you try to go low and away with your fastball? What do you do with your mechanics and this and that?” Alzolay said. “We’ve been throwing and seeing my release point and seeing what I’m doing with my body. I’m trying to pick up his mind. That’s my main focus right now.
“If you see this guy, he’s a Cy Young winner. The guy just comes out of the locker room and jogs to the stretch and when we finish the throwing program, he’s jogging to the mound and then he jogs to the next station he has to go. When you see those kinds of guys, you need to follow them. They’re winners for a reason.”
After making his MLB debut in 2019, Alzolay bounced between the Cubs’ alternate site and the big leagues last year. He impressed down the stretch, finishing with a 2.95 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while striking out 29 in 21.1 innings.
When he was down in South Bend last summer, Alzolay worked hard to develop a slider that differentiated in movement and velocity from his curveball. He was able to carry that over to game action in the big leagues and David Ross thinks that’s a credit to Alzolay’s character.
“I think he’s ahead mentally of where he was physically with his pitches and his performance,” Ross said. “It all kinda fell in line for him and I think that’s where the high expectations come from him and from us. He’s a guy that we’re all excited about.”
The Cubs have been high on Alzolay’s potential for a while, but his development has been hampered by injuries. He hasn’t thrown more than 70 innings in a season since 2017 when he was in High-A and Double-A.
For the first time in four years, he went into an offseason healthy and armed with the confidence from finding success in the majors. He focused on strengthening his shoulder and leg muscles and came to camp in a great headspace.
“I feel like my mental game is at another level at this point,” Alzolay said.
Arrieta is doing his part to continue that process. He takes pride in being approachable and told his teammates early on he wants to be a resource to help elevate their careers as much as he can.
He found an eager student in Alzolay and their bond has been one of the biggest takeaways from the first couple weeks of Cubs camp.
“From the get-go, I can tell that he wants it,” Arrieta said of Alzolay. “There’s no doubt in my mind. He’s focused, he asks a lot of questions and you can tell he loves the game. He loves to pitch. … He’s hungry for knowledge.
“Adbert is gonna be really, really good. His stuff is extremely impressive. … We’ve been talking pitching pretty much nonstop since I’ve been here. It’s good to see the smile on his face and I can just really tell that he wants to be extremely good.”