PHOENIX – If a left-handed Diamondbacks hitter grounded out to the right side of the infield on Saturday, chances were Adbert Alzolay’s cutter was responsible.
“It’s coming along pretty good,” the Cubs rookie right-hander said of the pitch. “It was just a matter of time and knowing the pitch better and picking my spots to throw it, my locations for the pitch. And I feel that it works really well with my sinker and my slider, too. It's been a lot of hard work to get that pitch going, but I feel super comfortable with it now.”
The Cubs’ 4-2 win at Chase Field on Saturday was Alzolay’s second major-league game really mixing in his cutter. He threw 14 against the Diamondbacks, according to Statcast, inducing four ground outs in his first four innings on the mound. It wasn’t until the fifth inning that an Arizona batter got a hit off the pitch.
“He’s got a real run to his fastball,” Cubs manager David Ross said, “so it gets that whole X-ing effect that is kind of the old school way of pitching.”
As the Cubs enter trade-deadline season as sellers – they already traded outfielder Joc Pederson to the Braves for a first base prospect – Alzolay headlines a group of young pitchers who the Cubs could build around for their next championship window.
“Some of the ability to grow and evolve as a pitcher is just exactly what he’s doing,” Ross said. “We’ve identified the slider is a really good pitch. The fastball command, when it’s there, he’s really good. So, you’ve got two really good pitches when he’s on that he can use, and now the changeup’s come into play a little bit more, and now the cutter.”
The cutter is another tool Alzolay can use against lefty bats. While Alzolay had held right-handed batters to a .167 batting average in his career, entering play Saturday, left-handed hitters had posted a .264 average against him.
“I’d like to see him to be able to negate some of the lefties diving out there,” Ross said, “whether it’s on his changeup or the slider that’s got depth that gets more into the barrel.”
Arizona gave Alzolay plenty of chances to practice that. The Diamondbacks put six left-handed batters (including switch-hitting Eduardo Escobar) into the lineup against Alzolay on Saturday. He gave up two runs in five innings.
“It works because we're using it to the right guys,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said. “There's different (swing) paths, and today was a good matchup for him. I think he threw really, really well today. And I’m willing to keep helping and help him to grow more than he already has.”
Alzolay’s cutter wasn’t perfect, of course. The two walks he issued Saturday came on ball-four sliders.
One of the two runs he allowed came on a cutter to Josh Rojas. The Diamondbacks leadoff hitter turned on the inside pitch and lined it into right field for an RBI single.
“I executed the pitch where I wanted to throw it,” Alzolay said. “He just got quick hands there and put the ball where he needed to put it.”
For Alzolay, the most time-consuming part of introducing the cutter was finding his command and matching his release point to his other pitches.
“The three pitches,” Alzolay said of his sinker, slider and cutter, “coming out of the same tunneling is what is making a little (difference) with lefties right now.”