I’m not sure whether you’re already aware, but the Cubs don’t exactly have the world’s most reliable bullpen at the moment. Their top two closer options are sidelined, short starts have taxed their go-to arms, and the Iowa Shuttle has resumed regular service delivering fresh arms to the front line. But fresh and effective are two different things, and throwing guys in spots they’re not used to isn’t always worthwhile.
If only there existed in the minors the type of pitcher with lights-out stuff who could give the Cubs multiple innings of relief. Wait, there is. Adbert Alzolay returned to active duty on May 12, nearly a year after being shut down with a lat injury just as it appeared he might be ready for a call-up. The Cubs have maintained that they’d like for Alzolay to remain a starter, but circumstances may dictate otherwise.
There’s also the matter of his repertoire, which profiles more as a reliever if his changeup doesn’t fully develop. Which is fine for now because the Cubs don’t need another starter. Or rather, they don’t need another full-time starter. Using Alzolay as sort of a piggyback guy or sixth starter as the Cubs enter warmer months with fewer days off would help both the rotation and the ‘pen.
He also offers a different look from the Cubs’ starters, and most of their relievers, for that matter. Despite only being about 6 feet tall and 180 pounds, the ball explodes out of his hand with mid-90’s velocity. He’s also got a very good curveball and that developing change. What’s more, Alzolay attacks hitters with the kind of aggressive approach you love to see from any pitcher regardless of role.
That’s been on display over his last two starts for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. Alzolay was clearly feeling things out over his first two starts back, one each with High-A Myrtle Beach and Iowa, allowing 12 runs (10 earned) on 11 hits and five walks and a hit batter over just eight innings of work. After getting the confidence and green light to really cut it loose, however, he has been dominant.
Over his last 11 innings, Alzolay has allowed just two runs on five hits and has racked up 15 strikeouts. His only walk in that span was intentional, proof that he’s aggressively pounding the zone. The righty touched 96 in his most recent outing, a dynamic performance in which he retired the first 12 batters he faced before having to work out of a jam in the 5th inning.
After allowing a single and RBI double, the only hits and run he gave up on the afternoon, Alzolay retired three of the next four batters to get out of the inning. The one outlier was that intentional way to set up a force at every base. And you wanna talk about closing with a bang? He came back out for the 6th and struck out the side on 13 pitches.
Even though he’s only got a total of 11 starts above Double-A, it’s beyond obvious that Alzolay’s stuff will play at the highest level. And he’s already on the 40-man roster, so no one has to be DFA’d in order to bring him up. I mean, not unless the Cubs want to make another move. What’s more, he just turned 24 back in March and isn’t exactly a spring chicken any longer.
Though he can’t singlehandedly solidify the bullpen or vanquish the specter of the Cubs’ failure to develop big-league pitching, Alzolay could at least help on both fronts. I’m sure the Cubs want to see a little more from him, to ensure he’s in the right headspace, but it’s not like they can sit on their hands much longer when they need arms.
If he remains healthy, Alzolay will be up in Chicago at some point this season. Based on what we’ve seen so far, both from him and the Cubs bullpen, I’d say the sooner the better.