MESA, Ariz. — There have been several storylines to come out of the early part of Cubs camp, but few are more intriguing than right-hander Adbert Alzolay and what he might mean to the team this season.
Alzolay is competing with right-hander Alec Mills for the final spot in the Cubs’ rotation and made his Cactus League debut by tossing a scoreless inning with a strikeout Tuesday against the Royals.
‘‘We love to compete,’’ Alzolay said. ‘‘So I feel like everyone is doing their part to go and compete for that spot, and then it’s just up to the organization what they want to do. But my personal opinion, yes, I feel ready to be a starter.’’
Alzolay, 26, was effective in limited opportunities last season, going 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA in six appearances, including four starts. While he didn’t pitch in many games for the Cubs in 2020, his development at the team’s alternate site carried over into his offseason work and has continued this spring.
‘‘Conversationally, he’s on another level in the way he’s carrying himself,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘The things he’s talking about, his poise, his work ethic. I mean, really, the list is long, to be honest with you. His interactions with coaches, questions to other players, he’s very comfortable where he’s at. The confidence is pouring out of his actions.’’
‘‘I try to take a good approach to every opportunity that I can have,’’ Alzolay said. ‘‘So, to me, the pandemic just opened many doors for my development because I had to focus on whatever I had to work on to get to the point that I’m at right now. . . .
‘‘I feel that just having that four-month [coronavirus] shutdown helped me a lot to see where I was with my mechanics, to clean my delivery, to start working on new pitches and just my overall fastball command.’’
Alzolay not only has caught the attention of the coaching staff but also of his teammates. Veteran right-hander Jake Arrieta has taken Alzolay under his wing and has been a sounding board as he tries to break into the rotation.
Arrieta has been seen watching Alzolay’s bullpen sessions and live batting practices and often can be seen sharing information with him.
‘‘He’s a guy who, from the get-go, I can tell that he wants it,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘There’s no doubt in my mind. He’s focused, he asks a lot of questions and you can tell he loves the game. He loves to pitch. . . . If I can help him escalate his career even a little bit, that makes this entire organization that much better.’’
The Cubs expect Alzolay to contribute big-league innings this season, but they will have to decide whether that happens in the bullpen or in the rotation. With a few of the Cubs’ starters offering similar looks, having Alzolay in the rotation as a change of pace would make sense.
Managing Alzolay’s workload coming off a shortened season is going to be a challenge, especially if he pitches as well as the Cubs hope. Going to abbreviated starts or using a modified rotation to give him additional rest might be options to help Alzolay stay fresh during the season.
Still, Alzolay said he is ready to take the ball whenever he has an opportunity.
‘‘If I’m healthy, I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep pitching because we just want to win,’’ Alzolay said. ‘‘So if I’m healthy, I know that there are a lot of possibilities that I can keep pitching.’’