Cubs’ Adbert Alzolay eyes return from IL: ‘Just enjoy the moment’

Before Alzolay was cleared to throw again, he honed his craft by watching other pitchers on TV, including Mets ace Jacob deGrom.

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Right-hander Adbert Alzolay is nearing a return from the 60-day IL.

Right-hander Adbert Alzolay is nearing a return from the 60-day IL. File photo.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Right-hander Adbert Alzolay has watched every game the Cubs have played since he landed on the injured list to start the season.

Really, every game?

“Hell, yeah,” Alzolay said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. “I’m part of the team, so even if you’re not there [in person], you’ve got to let them know that you’re there. You’ve got to watch your teammates play. You’ve got to watch how the team is doing so you’re always connected to it.”

Alzolay — five games into a rehab assignment, first in the Arizona Complex League and now in Triple-A Iowa — is expected to join the big-league squad before season’s end. He is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Wednesday, he said, and after that, the team will have a better idea of his next step. 

Manager David Ross told reporters in New York on Monday: “He’ll probably be knocking on the door here soon.”

Alzolay’s rehab process has taken longer than he originally expected. He strained the lat muscle on his right side a few weeks before spring training. It was a familiar injury. In 2018, he spent a little under four months on the injured list with a lat strain. This time, he didn’t even start throwing again until July. 

“The organization and I, personally, wanted to really take care of this thing to make sure it doesn’t come back in the near future or something like that,” he said. “So we let that muscle heal 100%. There were a lot of MRIs before they let me throw to make sure everything was good, everything was 100% ready to go. So that’s why it took a little bit longer.”

In all that downtime, Alzolay watched a lot of baseball. He said watching his teammates helped him stay “locked in” and gave him a clear goal to work toward. And he didn’t only tune into the Cubs. 

Alzolay took something from each pitcher he watched, especially when it came to game plan and sequencing. He paid attention to how different pitchers attacked hitters in the National League Central — hitters he expects to face plenty in the coming years. 

He’d pull up highlights of Mets ace Jacob deGrom, whom the Cubs beat 4-1 Tuesday. Alzolay took note of how deGrom repeats his mechanics, letting him hit the same spot at will.

“I just really like the way he controls and commands everything on the glove side,” Alzolay said. “I feel like as a pitcher, as a right-handed pitcher, being able to command and control the glove side is huge.” 

Alzolay also used his extra downtime to put on muscle. He honed his release points to sharpen each of his pitches.

“How can I make it bigger? How can I make it shorter? How can I make it more consistent?” he said. “So it’s just learning more about my mechanics, my delivery, how I feel overall when I’m doing everything right with my arm. Being able to really recognize that and put it in practice really got me into a position where I can finish my pitches better.”

He expects his strength work and cleaning up his mechanics will help him stay healthy.

Reliever Manuel Rodriguez rehabbed with Alzolay at the Cubs’ spring-training complex. He complimented Alzolay’s strides and said in Milwaukee last month that Alzolay was “a completely different person.”

Alzolay threw his first rehab start in Arizona in late August and has tossed four more with the I-Cubs. He allowed four runs at Columbus in his second game in Triple-A but limited opponents to one run in each of his other four starts. He has put into practice the glove-side lessons he took from watching deGrom.

“I feel I was a little bit better in my last game going with my slider and my cutter down and away for righties or throwing it up and in for lefties,” he said. 

When Alzolay returns to the majors, his goal is simple: “Just enjoy the moment. Just being able to go back to Wrigley Field, enjoy that view. You’ve just gotta take all that in. I’m really looking forward to it.”

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