Are There Any Expectations for Alzolay on Saturday?

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By Todd Johnson

It looks like all systems are go for Adbert Alzolay to make his major league debut on Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds. Alzolay will pitch one game of the doubleheader and head right back to AAA Iowa when the weekend is over. The 23-year-old right-handed starting pitcher from Venezuela features a mid to upper 90s fastball that he can maintain through the sixth and seventh innings. He can mix and match it with a developing change up and an average curve which seems to have a harder bite this year.

Is there anything to read into this?

Not really. One of the Cubs’ strengths has been to evaluate their own players. The Cubs know what they have in Alzolay and they’re going to take their time with him, but he is close to being ready for the majors. This Saturday will give the Cubs a look at how he does against major league hitters. No more, no less. At 23 years of age, and already on the 40 man roster, this should just be a preview in case there is an injury to one of the current starting five in the rotation. Then again, it could also be a preview in case he is needed in the bullpen.

Why Adbert Alzolay?

Out of all the arms at AAA, he definitely has the best stuff. However, he’s only had that elite stuff and profile for about a year now. In 2016, Alzolay struggled in South Bend in his first year of full season ball. He tired easily, he struggled with the secondaries, and a 4.34 ERA was not conducive to long-term potential.

Between the 2016 and 2017 season, Adbert worked hard to strengthen his lower half. With the help of Myrtle Beach pitching coach Anderson Tavarez, Adbert also quickened his pace. His strength and conditioning over the winter paid off as he kept going deeper and deeper games and his new timing threw off hitters as he destroyed the Carolina League (2.98 ERA) and then did well at AA Tennessee (3.03 ERA)..

Alzolay also spent some time in the Arizona Fall League in 2017 working on his secondaries in relief and then he was invited to major league camp where he just kind of sucked in the atmosphere of being with the big league roster.

He began 2018 a little late due to a minor injury, and he has shown flashes of brilliance taking no-hitters into the sixth inning twice. He has also struggled when he leaves the ball up as evidenced by the three home runs he gave up on Monday night. In five starts so far at Iowa, he has a 4.10 ERA in with 19 Ks in 26.1 innings.

Can he succeed?

The key for him has always been fastball command. When you throw 96 miles an hour, if you put the ball where you want it in the strike zone, you will be just fine. And that has to be the plan for Alzolay on Saturday. He can come up, flash his fastball, change speeds, and move the ball up, down, and around, and he should be good to go. And, like any other pitcher, if he’s all over the place, things are not going to go well.

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