Cubs rookie Adbert Alzolay made his MLB debut Thursday night in Wrigley Field against the Mets and recorded the win ( ). He’s a starting pitcher by trade, but his outing came in relief in a bit of a piggyback situation. He followed Tyler Chatwood, who was making a spot start in injured Kyle Hendricks‘ spot, after four innings.
Alzolay’s outing was very good. It wasn’t awe-inspiring or anything without proper context — that context being that the Cubs have been utterly dreadful at developing their own starting pitchers for quite a long time. We’ll get to that.
As for Alzolay, he was signed as a teenager out of Venezuela and has spent the last seven years working toward last night’s effort. Prior to his call, Alzolay had pitched to a 3.08 ERA and 0.94 WHIP with 46 strikeouts against six walks in 32 Triple-A outings. His 2018 season was cut short due to a lat injury and that’s why he didn’t have a big workload in Triple-A. The numbers really started popping and the Hendricks injury opened the door.
Alzolay entered the game to start the fifth against the Mets’ top of the order. He went 2-0 to Jeff McNeil before getting a foul out and then walked Pete Alonso. He then got a Robinson Cano lineout — it took every bit of big Kris Bryant’s reflexes and stretch to snag it.
It’s here we’ll mention that Alzolay admitted after the game that he was pretty nervous on the mound to start, saying he felt like he couldn’t believe this was really happening.
His raw stuff says “this” was deserved. Alzolay sits mid-90s with his fastball and his sharp curve ranges from the high-70s to low-80s. Those were always plus pitches. I spoke to a scout who told me there were never questions about those two pitches, it was just about becoming effective with a third pitch and, as goes with every single pitcher, staying healthy.
Alzolay used 13 changeups on Thursday, getting three swinging strikes and four called strikes. Only two of his changeups ended up in play and both were outs. Also of note on the change: It recorded his first career strikeout. You know that Cano liner we mentioned earlier? That was the second out of Alzolay’s first inning in the majors. This ended the inning:
With the first inning and first strikeout under his belt, Alzolay’s admitted jitters appeared to leave the building.
In the sixth inning (Alzolay’s second), he struck out all three batters he faced. He went 1-2-3 in the seventh and eighth, too, running his streak to 11 straight outs after the Alonso walk.
Now, there are caveats galore here. He gave up a homer and walk in the ninth before being removed. He didn’t start the game. He only threw 55 pitches. He’ll be limited this season due to the injury last year. This was only one game against a not-very-good team. Everything applies.
In watching the outing, though, Alzolay’s stuff was electric. Here’s a glimpse of said stuff along with a glorious heaping of swagger:
Not just that, but commissioner Rob Manfred is sure to love him. Alzolay took essentially no time between pitches. He’d get the ball back, get on the mound, take the sign and start winding up. Mets hitters were resorting to holding up their back hand before they got set to make sure they didn’t get caught sleeping.
In a league where so many pitchers take so long, one can’t help but wonder if this will be an asset for Alzolay.
Regardless, let’s get back to the reason this could be such a big deal for the Cubs.
Who was the last homegrown pitcher the Cubs developed, kept and saw produce at the big-league level?
Yep. Seriously. It was so long ago the answer to the question has already fallen off the Hall of Fame ballot. Zambrano last pitched in 2012 for the Marlins and 2011 for the Cubs, but
Kyle Hendricks debuted with the Cubs, but they acquired him (for Ryan Dempster) from the Rangers when he was in Class A-Advanced.
Prior to Zambrano, you’re looking at the Mark Prior-Kerry Wood combo when it comes to successful starting pitchers the Cubs drafted and developed.
It’s a bad, bad history.
That’s why the 11 straight retired — notably with such a swagger — by Alzolay were such a big deal. In light of how much we know he needs that third pitch, seeing his success with the change was especially encouraging. There’s big upside here to dream on.
As noted, expect a light load for the kid the rest of this season. He only threw 39 2/3 innings last regular season in Triple-A and he’s already surpassed that this year total. He’s 24. He had an injury last season. And the Cubs have a full rotation once Hendricks is back (the Cubs say it won’t be long). I could see Alzolay doing something like a 2009 David Price role in the postseason if the Cubs make a deep run.
That stuff is all beside the point here, though. What the Cubs finally appear to have is a homegrown starter they’ll keep with the chance he helps them in the rotation for years to come. It’s been a long time since that was the case with any homegrown Cubs arm.