Cubs pitcher Adbert Alzolay, who looked like a promising part of the Cubs’ 2022 rotation until a shoulder injury in the spring derailed his season, is preparing for a bullpen role going forward into next year as he nears a season debut that could come by the end of the weekend.
A big part of that thinking, he said, is the flexibility it allows the organization to go big in pursuing free agent starting pitching during a crossroads winter for the front office.
“It’s just what is best for the team,” said Alzolay, who joined the team Friday after completing a five-start, minor-league rehab assignment.
“We’re here, we’re building something, we’re trying to win,” he said. “If my role is best out of the bullpen, being a long guy, being a guy that can throw in the eighth or close the game or whatever, I feel like I have the weapons to do that.'
With the emergence of Justin Steele this year, the Cubs have at least three starters penciled into the opening rotation next season, including Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks (who should be back from injury).
Drew Smyly could be back on a mutual option or restructured multiyear deal. Keegan Thompson, Javier Assad and possibly Adrian Sampson could be in the mix next spring.
All of which would leave a place at the front of the rotation for a big free agent and likely little room at the back end for Alzolay to be as strong a fit as he might be in a multi-inning relief or swingman role.
“I feel it’s more versatility for the team and for the manager also,” he said. “You don’t have me every five days there, but you can have me every two or three days, where I can go three or four innings, or I can go and throw one inning late in the game.
"I feel like there are a lot more options there," he said. "And then that allows the team to be aggressive in the offseason."
Alzolay, 27, spent most of last season in the Cubs’ rotation, going 5-13 with a 4.58 in 21 starts and eight relief appearances.
For now, Alzolay seems happy to return to the team in time to pitch before the end of the season.
“It was my main goal,” he said. “Even if it was the lsat two weeks of the season, the last month of the season. … It was about making sure that everything was all right, that I didn’t have a setback. Thank God when I started throwing, I didn’t have a setback at all. I never stopped throwing; I kept building up. That’s why I was able to get through the rehab quick and be here and throw big-league innings.
“For me it’s a huge takeaway because now we can go into the offseason with that clear mind that we’re fully healthy, and we did pitch at the end of the year.”
Alzolay threw a bullpen session Friday.
“My arm feels real good now,” he said. “It hasn’t felt this good in a little bit now.”