Cubs’ bullpen surrenders lead after Adbert Alzolay’s strong start
Rex Brothers walked Omar Narvaez with the bases loaded and hit Tyrone Taylor with a pitch to tie the score, and Andrew Chafin gave up a two-run homer to pinch hitter Manny Pina.
The Cubs got a strong outing from Adbert Alzolay and eight hits and three runs from the lineup, but bad pitches from two relievers and a questionable strike call in the ninth inning resulted in a 4-3 loss Saturday to the Brewers.
Alzolay left in the fifth inning with two outs and runners on the corners after walking Simeon High School grad Corey Ray, who was making his major-league debut. From there, reliever Rex Brothers loaded the bases, then walked Omar Narvaez and hit Tyrone Taylor with a pitch to tie the score.
In the seventh inning, Andrew Chafin gave up a two-run home run to pinch hitter Manny Pina that gave Milwaukee the lead.
“Adbert had a great game,” manager David Ross said.
“We’ve got to get out of that situation for him. I thought he threw really well.”
The first two batters Alzolay faced got on base, but from there he got to work, sitting the Brewers down one at a time.
Alzolay retired 12 in a row — seven via strikeout — stretching from the first inning to the fifth. Even Travis Shaw’s bats fell victim; Alzolay splintered two of them.
“I felt really, really good today,” Alzolay said. “I felt that my fastball was working with my slider. I was able to command my pitches better.”
Despite the loss, Alzolay’s day on the mound was a promising step in his development as a starter. He looked as sharp as he has in any of his appearances in the majors, and he has gone into at least the fifth inning in all three starts this season. His 83 pitches were the second-most he has thrown in a start in his career.
Alzolay liked how his fastball felt late in the game, and that’s something that he thinks will be a factor in being able to go into the sixth or seventh inning.
“Just keep building off of that, and I think I’m ready to go deeper into games,” Alzolay said.
Ross said that the difference for Alzolay this year has been the development of his breaking pitch to go with his fastball and changeup.
“The slider has definitely been the pitch that has changed things for him,” Ross said.
Alzolay feels he can manipulate the pitch better, going up and down and backdoor when needed, and as a result, he can get left-handed batters out more easily.
He’s learning to adjust his game plan on the mound, too. Alzolay noticed that the Brewers were sitting on his slider the last time he faced them, so he went to his four-seam fastball more to keep them off balance.
In the ninth, the Cubs tried to mount a comeback against Brewers closer Josh Hader, but it might have been foiled by a questionable strike call.
Jason Heyward’s eighth-inning homer closed the deficit to a run, and Nico Hoerner led off the ninth with a walk. With pinch hitter Jake Marisnick at the plate, umpire Cory Blaser called the first pitch from Hader a strike — a call that shifted the tone of the inning.
“That looked extremely high,” Ross said. “We’ve got the leadoff guy on; we’ve got a guy who hits lefties pretty good for us who’s been hot. An 0-0 call with the closer out there, a guy you want to get down in the zone. I watched [Blaser] all day; I have a ton of respect for him. That was a bad call, plain and simple.”
Blaser’s strike zone had been consistent all afternoon, Ross said, so calling a high strike against Marisnick in such a pivotal moment helped kill off a potential ninth-inning rally.
“In that moment, that just can’t happen, in my opinion,” Ross said.