Adbert Alzolay remembers being tongue-tied.
He didn’t know how the conversation would go when Cubs manager David Ross called the young pitcher into his office.
“Right now, they have really hard decisions to make,” Alzolay said.
Before announcing the Cubs’ opening rotation on Saturday, Ross delivered the news to Alzolay: Not only had the 26-year-old made the roster, but he was the Cubs’ fifth starter.
“I was so happy, I couldn't say anything,” Alzolay recounted Sunday. “The only thing that I said back to him was that I was so happy for this opportunity.”
Alzolay makes the Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. He’s made six spot starts for the Cubs over the past couple seasons, 10 major-league outings in all. But Saturday’s news was a vote of confidence from the club to the homegrown pitcher.
“What I’ve seen is a guy that’s a lot freer walking around the clubhouse talking to everybody,” Ross said of Alzolay’s maturation. “Personality is out. Who he is, is shining through. A lot of smiles as he walks around, but when he gets on the mound, he’s doing work and is taking the feedback and asking the right questions.”
It would have been easy for someone in Alzolay’s position to respond the opposite way.
He threw a scoreless outing for his first spring training start, but then he gave up five and three runs to the Diamondbacks and Royals, respectively. At the same time, speculation was swirling about the MLB Players Association grievance regarding Alzolay’s fourth option. Would the Cubs send Alzolay to Triple-A if he did have another option?
His wife was worried about the implications grievance, Alzolay said, but he told her: “I’m about to have a good game tomorrow. I need to be prepared, and then if I put those things on my mind, I’m just going to put more pressure on myself that I don't need to have right now.”
He was right about having a good game. Alzolay held the Dodgers to two runs on one hit Thursday. And even though the Cubs learned Alzolay would have a fourth option, they put him on the roster.
“He’s nowhere near where he’s going to be, and that’s a good thing,” said Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta, who has served as a mentor for Alzolay this spring. “He’s in a great place. He’s only going to get better. He’s a tremendous student of the game, he prepares himself extremely well, and there’s still room to grow. I’m in the same boat – I feel like I can grow as well.”
On Sunday, Ross highlighted Alzolay’s ability to bounce back from those two early outings, a skill he expects the young pitcher will call on throughout the year.
“That’s every major league pitcher,” Ross said. “I like the stuff. It's something that that we don't really have in our rotation. And it's nice for a guy that you see put in a lot of hard work and get rewarded and have a chance to really help us.”