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Cubs’ Adbert Alzolay gets acquainted with new catcher Robinson Chirinos — quickly

Each start is still a learning experience for Adbert Alzolay. One new experience for him was working with a brand-new catcher.

Adbert Alzolay throws a pitch during the first inning against the Phillies on Thursday at Wrigley Field.
Adbert Alzolay throws a pitch during the first inning against the Phillies on Thursday at Wrigley Field.
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

At 26 and with just over 100 career innings under his belt, each start is still a learning experience for Adbert Alzolay. Taking on the Phillies on Thursday, one new experience for Alzolay was working with a brand-new catcher in Robinson Chirinos.

Alzolay has developed a great rapport with regular backstop Willson Contreras, but Chirinos joined the Cubs on Monday, leaving little time to prep for working together.

“This will be a nice little mix-up for him and the normal routine,” manager David Ross said before the game.

Alzolay allowed four runs in five innings in the Cubs’ 8-0 loss. The first scored on a botched strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play in the second inning that became a double steal instead. The rest of the damage came on two home runs by Brad Miller.

Otherwise, Alzolay kept the Phillies to three other hits and struck out five with only one walk. On Thursday, Alzolay used a cutter for the first time, a weapon he said could help against lefties going forward.

Alzolay’s ERA sits at 4.66 through 16 starts. That number ballooned some during a rough patch in June, particularly in starts against the Padres and Dodgers, when he gave up four runs in three innings in San Diego on June 7 and four runs in three innings in Los Angeles on June 27. Alzolay had a 3.14 ERA in May but went on the injured list after his June 7 start with a blister on his right middle finger.

Alzolay’s growth might be best measured these days in such things as how his pitches are developing. He added two to his arsenal — a sinker and slider — in 2020, and both are proving effective, especially his slider, which is generating a whiff rate of over 57% this season. On Thursday, Alzolay used a cutter for the first time, a weapon he said could help against lefties going forward.

“I think he’s a guy that is one of the better starters in our rotation,” Ross said. “And [he] continues to prove that every time out. I think he learns every time out. Adbert’s right on track to establish and set himself as a really good starter we depend on every time.”

Steele’s future?

Justin Steele was activated from the IL after making his final rehab appearance for Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday. Steele was then optioned to Iowa, where team president Jed Hoyer said the plan is to work on stretching him out.

“How far we stretch him out is yet to be determined,” Hoyer said.

The goal, according to Hoyer, is to get Steele to where he can eventually go multiple innings and face a lineup more than once. Beyond that, Steele has the repertoire to slide into the rotation at some point.

“He’s got great stuff,” Hoyer said. “Left-handed with a great fastball and multiple other weapons. Sometimes when a pitcher is young like that, I think closing the door on starting is a mistake.”

Steele, 25, has a 2.03 ERA in 11 appearances for the Cubs this season.

Baez, Bryant out; Williams starts Sunday

Javy Baez (thumb) and Kris Bryant (hamstring) were out of Ross’ lineup. On Wednesday, Baez was a late scratch, and Bryant left the game in the fourth inning.

Trevor Williams will fill Jake Arrieta’s spot in the rotation Sunday against the Cardinals.

Williams was activated from the IL on Tuesday and pitched 3⅔ innings in relief. He is 3-2 with a 5.51 ERA in 10 starts this season.