Adbert Alzolay observed pitchers like Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester as they went through their routines.
The 25-year-old righthander asked questions in the dugout and became comfortable in a major league environment. In a transition year for the Cubs, Alzolay showed he belongs at Wrigley Field.
Alzolay used the time during the pandemic shutdown to improve his conditioning and sharpen his pitches. Isolated at the South Bend, Ind., alternate training site, he developed a slider and stayed ready for the next opportunity.
He finished the season with a flourish and finished with a 2.95 ERA in 21.1 innings. He struck out 29 and walked 13 in six games, including four starts.
“I get more experience every day, just watching all these guys pitching,” Alzolay said. “Just paying attention to the game, watching whatever they do on their days, you can learn so much from those guys.”
Their simple advice—“just be yourself on the mound”—resonated for a prospect the Cubs have been waiting on for years. He signed out of Venezuela in 2012.
Alzolay notched 15 strikeouts in his last two September outings while giving up two runs across nine innings. The Cubs won three of the four games he started, including part of an Aug. 19 doubleheader that saw him limit the Cardinals to one unearned run in five innings.
Alzolay will probably get a long look for the 2021 rotation, which right now only has Darvish and Hendricks as locks.
At minimum, he profiles like an interesting swingman or a multi-inning reliever for a team that has gotten good pitching results at the major league level while struggling to develop homegrown pitching.
“The stuff is great,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “The poise that he’s shown (is impressive). The tempo has been great. He hasn’t rushed through any moments.
“It doesn’t look like the game has sped up on him at all. Just that maturation process that we all got to go through—it looks like he’s there.”
— Alzolay gave a ringing endorsement of lefthander Brailyn Marquez, who made his big league debut in Game No. 60, without having pitched above the high Class A level before.
“I’m so proud of the kid,” Alzolay said. “I was working with him for two months in South Bend, trying to help him in whatever ways I could help him. Just to let you guys know, we have a good one in him. He’s going to be great. He’s going to be so good for this team in the future.”
— Winning the National League Central with a game remaining on the schedule allowed the Cubs to audition Marquez—a lefty with a 100 mph fastball—before a playoff format that puts a premium on a deep, flexible roster.
“We felt like Brailyn could put himself in a position to be an option for us,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “I wouldn’t read too much into this except we want to give him that inning to get comfortable, and that at least puts him on the radar screen for us as we move forward.”
Patrick Mooney is a senior writer for The Athletic
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