Adbert Alzolay went to Cubs teammate and good friend Justin Steele on Tuesday and laid out the plan for Steele’s start Wednesday against the Twins.
“We were just joking around,” Alzolay said Thursday. “I went up to him and I was like, ‘Bro, it’s just you and me tomorrow. You go five or six [innings] and I’ll finish the rest.’”
Alzolay’s plan worked to perfection. After Steele threw five shutout innings, he came out of the bullpen and picked up a four-inning save to beat Minnesota.
But make no mistake. This is not what he or the Cubs have in mind. If anything, the relief outing was an indication of what he can do as a starter.
Alzolay will finish the season in the bullpen so the Cubs can monitor his workload. He’s thrown 112 1/3 innings, nine fewer than his single-season career high at any level (2016).
“The best way to kind of monitor his innings and keep him healthy for us is having him down there in the bullpen to help out,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “It's a real weapon, as you saw yesterday.
“He's got length. He can come in in short bursts. There's a lot of options we can do with him down there and kind of keeping him as sharp as possible.”
Alzolay looked as dominant and in control Wednesday as he has all season. He threw 40 pitches in those four scoreless innings (30 strikes), allowing a lone single and no walks while striking out five.
He attacked the zone with his fastball and paired it with his sharp slider to shut down the Twins.
“I kind of like it because the hitters are ready to hit,” Alzolay said of his mentality pitching out of the bullpen. “Just go out there and you attack them right away.
“[Wednesday], the rhythm I had in just going at hitters, it made me feel really comfortable.”
Alzolay had mixed results in 21 starts this season. His peripherals were good (9.1 K/9, 1.204 WHIP) but he allowed 24 home runs and turned in a 5.16 ERA.
"I have learned a lot, especially about my body and going through the whole full season," he said. "I’m still learning a little bit more, but I feel that now I have a pretty good idea of when my body was feeling at the best, when everything was syncing, how was the workload, what were we doing in the in the weight room.
"I feel that through the months, my routine has gotten better and better."
Alzolay has the best stuff out of anyone in the Cubs starting rotation right now and might be the best bet to stick in the rotation out of the group featuring him, Steele and Keegan Thompson.
Wednesday was the best outing of Steele’s starting career. Thompson pitched Thursday and Ross pulled him in the second inning after he got just five outs and threw 54 pitches.
Alzolay both started and came out of the bullpen to pitch multiple innings in 2020.
"Since I've been in the big leagues," Alzolay said, "in '19 and last year, I was doing both — coming out of the bullpen and starting some games. I feel that I can do both."
He and the Cubs have more in mind, though.
“Yeah, for sure," Alzolay said of wanting to start in 2022.