ATLANTA — The Cubs have given starter Adbert Alzolay a chance to grow at the major-league level, and after a rocky season debut, Alzolay has started to come into his own. He entered Thursday’s game in an attempt to play stopper and end the Cubs’ five-game losing streak.
While that would be a lot to ask of many young starters, Alzolay looked up for the task against a Braves team that averaged eight runs per game over the first three games of the series.
The Cubs’ right-hander continued to show his steady development in Thursday’s 9-3 win and is beginning to look like the starter the Cubs always envisioned him being.
“I think his stuff, I’ll put it up there with anybody in baseball,” said Matt Duffy, who was 2-for-4 on Thursday. “Just the way it moves. I faced him in live BP right before the season started and was thoroughly impressed with the pure stuff.”
Alzolay got into very little trouble against Atlanta and was aggressive in the strike zone with his sinker, slider and four-seam fastball. Braves hitters didn’t look very comfortable against Alzolay over his career-high six innings of work.
“I think he’s just getting a little more consistent with what he wants to do the hitters and the trust that he has in his stuff,” manager David Ross said. “I’m really seeing the same pitcher, I think there’s just a little bit more leeway from my end and the ability to watch and continue to build confidence in him that he has and I have and our group has letting him go a little bit deeper today.
“He continues to build that confidence and has established himself as one of our really good starters.”
The six innings of work was a major accomplishment for Alzolay. He struck out six batters and walked just one, throwing a career-high 94 pitches in the process. It was the first quality start of his career.
“When you can command and control a pitch on both sides of the plate, it will open so many doors for you,” Alzolay said. “Because you have the hitter just now looking at one spot, but you got the hitter wondering, ‘Oh, this guy can go to the other side of the plate with the same pitch. They start thinking at the plate. So for me, it’s just keep getting better at commanding the pitch and just keep attacking the hitters.”
The Cubs needed an outing like this from one of their starters. With with the exception of Trevor Williams on Tuesday, no other starter had a quality outing in Atlanta.
Cubs starting pitchers allowed 16 earned runs against the hot-hitting Braves during the four-game series. All but four of those runs came in starts by right-handers Zach Davies and Kyle Hendricks, who have left a lot to be desired in April.
Davies and Hendricks were supposed to be the two consistent pieces of the rotation, but so far this season, they’ve been not only bad but two of the worst starters in baseball, allowing a combined 39 earned runs.
The lack of quality starts takes a toll after a while, and Cubs’ relievers have been warming up far too often in the fourth and fifth innings. The rotation will have to start going longer before the struggles begin to leak into the bullpen.
“I mean, it was huge for me that I was able to throw my first quality start in the big leagues today,” Alzolay said. “As a team, I feel like we needed it. We haven’t been as good as everyone was expecting as starting pitchers, but tonight, I felt it was good as a team and for the starters that I went out and gave the team six innings.”