Look at the way Adbert Alzolay approached left-handed hitters his third time through the Reds batting order Tuesday. It hinted at the adjustment he wants to make.
“I need to start using the other side of home plate a little more,” Alzolay said after the Cubs’ 7-4 loss to the Reds on Tuesday, “so the hitters can have a different view of the ball and aren’t always looking middle-inside when I’m facing them.”
The Cubs are preparing for starting rotation changes. Those could come by trade, with Friday’s deadline looming large, or otherwise. But with Justin Steele stretching out on a starter’s schedule in Triple-A Iowa, and the Cubs on Tuesday sending Keegan Thompson to join him with a similar goal, the club is gathering young starting pitching options.
With a head start, Alzolay could lead that young group of potential starters. But he’ll have to address his struggles against left-handed hitting first.
On Tuesday, Alzoaly gave up home runs to the first two lefties he faced, Jesse Winker and Joey Votto. A couple innings later, Votto took Alzolay deep a second time. Alzolay left the game after allowing four runs in five innings.
“In those three homers to lefties – (again),” Alzolay said with a self-aware chuckle, “I just keep missing my spot with that pitch. I have such little room for error, and then whenever I made that error, I leave that pitch in the strike zone in a hitter’s count, they’re always going to make me pay.”
Of the 23 home runs Alzolay has given up this season, all but four have been to lefties. On Tuesday, Winker drove a hanging slider out of the park. Votto blasted a sinker that broke over the plate and cutter that finished low rather than in on the hands.
“The lefties – that’s been a thing for him,” Cubs manager David Ross said after the game. “We’ve got to figure out a way to improve on that.”
Alzolay’s first big adjustment to combat his poor splits against left-handed hitters was adding a cutter. Like his slider, Alzolay’s cutter breaks in on lefties, but it finishes higher, ideally jamming hitters.
On Tuesday, Alzolay’s pitches looked flat to Ross. To Alzolay’s earlier point, he’s also become predictable.
“The cutter and slider, everything’s coming in to (left-handed hitters),” Ross said. “... Commanding down and away in general I think is something that we can improve on.”
The third time through the order, Alzolay threw three straight sinkers to Winker, the first two outside. He got away with the third leaking over the middle when Winker flied out to left field. Against Votto the third time around, Alzolay leaned on his changeup and used both sides of the plate. Votto lined out to Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
“If I start giving lefties more different looks at the ball,” Alzolay said, “going backdoor slider, using the changeup more like I did today at the end of the game with the lefties, I feel that I’ll have a little bit more room to go inside with my other pitches. “
The approach is a work in process. But the process is in motion.