CLEVELAND — It looks like right-hander Adbert Alzolay is getting comfortable pitching in the big leagues, and the results are starting to back that up.
There are going to be some ups and downs for Alzolay in his first full season, but so far, he’s been able to improve on each of his outings.
Matched up against some of baseball’s best arms recently, including the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler in his previous start, Alzolay took the mound Tuesday against reigning AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber.
Getting opportunities to face some of the game’s best isn’t something the Cubs’ young right-hander takes for granted.
“It’s been really fun. I’m looking forward to more matchups like this one,” Alzolay said after the Cubs’ 3-2 loss to the Indians. “I think that’s the good part right now is that I’ve been matching really good pitchers lately, and I do like that.”
Alzolay went pitch-for-pitch with Bieber and looked better than his counterpart most of the night.
As he did in his outing against the Dodgers, Alzolay got off to a fast start, striking out four of the first five hitters he faced. He induced 18 swings-and-misses, including 15 off his slider.
“He’s getting more and more comfortable out there,” said Eric Sogard, who hit his first home run with the Cubs. “He has a great sense of all his pitches. When he’s getting ahead and using his defense behind him, it’s fun to watch.”
He was in cruise control and had Cleveland hitters off-balance, but it was the long ball that came back to hurt Alzolay, who surrendered a pair of homers in the fourth and fifth innings.
Jose Ramirez’s solo shot tied the game at 1 before Cesar Hernandez’s go-ahead, two-run blast gave Cleveland a 3-2 lead. Both homers came on 3-2 counts.
“I thought Adbert threw the ball pretty well,” manager David Ross said. “I thought he made some big pitches and didn’t give up a whole lot of hits. They had a little bit of damage there with Ramirez, trying to sneak a 3-2 fastball by him. Then to Hernandez, [he threw] a nice slider on 3-1, just didn’t get it there on 3-2. But yeah, I thought he threw the ball extremely well.”
Despite the homers, Alzolay pitched well enough to win, picking up his second quality start of the season. He allowed three runs on five hits over six innings, striking out six. It was the fifth consecutive start he’s allowed three runs or less and his first in which he didn’t issue a walk.
“I definitely feel my body is getting more in rhythm to get deep into the game,” Alzolay said. “Today was a good day in the beginning, just missing two pitches in 3-2 counts. That happens when you’re in the big leagues and you miss your location against good hitters.”
The growth from the Cubs’ young starter has been impressive, and Alzolay slowly is becoming one of the rotation’s most reliable options. If he can continue that upward trajectory, it’s clear he can get to another level.
“He’s been making the adjustments he needs to make each start,” catcher Willson Contreras said. “Today, he showed me that he will be capable of going more than six innings. “I talk to him a lot about not rushing with two strikes. Whenever he gets to two strikes, he gets so excited. He probably misses the location the most on two strikes. I think that the next step for him is maintaining the same rhythm that he has before two strikes and then try to execute on two strikes.”
NOTE: Kris Bryant left the game in the sixth inning with an undisclosed illness.