Sliders, shutdown success and steps forward for Adbert Alzolay
MESA, Ariz. — Adbert Alzolay burst out of the third base dugout and sprinted to the mound, a couple of seconds before his Cubs teammates joined him on the Sloan Park diamond.
It’s hard to blame him for being eager in his first Cactus League start — this is a big spring for the 26-year-old right-hander.
Tuesday marked the beginning of a new chapter for Alzolay as he works to transition from prospect status into a bonafide big-leaguer. He sat 94-95 mph with his fastball in a shutout inning, working around a leadoff hit-by-pitch and ending the frame with a nasty slider in the dirt for a strikeout:
Alzolay said his primary focus of the outing was to work on his fastball command and was happy with the pair of sliders he threw.
The slider will be a major pitch for him this season after working to add it to his repertoire last summer at the Cubs’ alternate site. It’s a different shape than his curveball and is emerging as his “put-’em-away” pitch with two strikes in the count, he said.
“Last year, I was just trying to throw it right down the middle of home plate, to be honest,” Alzolay said. “I had four days with the pitch only, so I wasn’t trying to do too much. During the offseason, we worked on it.
“I can command the pitch pretty good right now. The confidence with the pitch is there like what I have with my fastball and my curveball.”
Despite the pandemic-induced shutdown last year, Alzolay made the most of his time at home. He worked with the Cubs coaches and player development staff to take tangible steps forward on his own and then carried that over into summer camp and the alternate site in South Bend.
“I try to take a good approach of every opportunity that I can have,” Alzolay said. “To me, the pandemic just opened many doors for my development. … Having that two-month shutdown helped me a lot to see where I was with my mechanics, to clean up my delivery, to start working with new pitches and just overall my fastball command.”
Thanks in part to the improved fastball command and the addition of a slider, Alzolay found success in his 6 outings (4 starts) with the Cubs last season. He was 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 12.2 K/9 and flashed the potential the Cubs have been so high on.
He went into the offseason healthy for the first time in a while and came into camp hungry and determined. He’s been soaking up all he can from veteran Jake Arrieta and working to earn a spot in the Opening Day rotation.
“I think he’s gone through the prospect kinda journey and now it’s time to take that step to be a big leaguer, which I think he is,” David Ross said. “And I think he thinks he is, which is always very nice to see.
“Conversationally, he’s on another level. The way he’s carrying himself and the things he’s talking about, his poise, his work ethic, really the list is long. His interactions with coaches, questions, other players — it’s literally just about everything. He’s very comfortable where he’s at and the confidence is pouring out of his actions.”
Whether in the rotation or bullpen to start the season, Alzolay is going to be an important part of this Cubs pitching staff.
Beyond performance, the big question is how the team will manage his workload. Alzolay hasn’t topped 100 innings in a season since 2017.
But he’s not worried about that right now.
“If I’m healthy, I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep pitching,” Alzolay said. “At the end of the day, we just want to win. If I’m healthy, there are a lot of possibilities that I can keep pitching.
“That’s on those guys. I don’t control that. I just control whatever I can do on the field. So that’s my main focus right now.”