The mist swirled in the glare of the Wrigley Field lights overhead, as Cubs pitcher Adbert Alzolay walked off the mound midway through the fourth inning Thursday.
Even as the Cubs' bats lifted the team to an 8-5 win over the Reds on Thursday, the dismal Chicago weather was intent on mirroring the Cubs’ rotation situation
Searching for a fifth starter, with Tyler Chatwood and José Quintana on the injured list, the Cubs put the ball in Alzolay’s hands Thursday. He allowed three runs and issued two walks and hit one batter in 3 2/3 innings.
“His stuff is good,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He has to continue to attack hitters. I think the more he’s out there, the more he’s getting feedback from the hitters and what works for him. A lot of time you’ve got to throw these guys in the fire and let them work through some things.”
The 25-year-old had shown potential earlier in the year. Alzolay made his first spot start for the Cubs in a doubleheader against the Cardinals last month. Beaming after the game, he talked about how much he’d improved since last season. And his performance backed up his assessment – just one run and two hits in five innings.
But on Thursday, he was not the answer to the Cubs’ looming rotation questions.
Nor is an empty spot in the Cubs’ rotation its only question. Will Jon Lester’s get back on track after giving up five runs in each of his last two starts, each under six innings? Will the adjustments Alec Mills made in his last start stick?
On Thursday, another question arose: Is mid-September, on a playoff-bound team, the best time for a young pitcher to work through command issues?
The Cubs have two off days next week, their last two of the season. So, that helps put off the need for a fifth starter for another couple of weeks.
Their schedule doesn’t, however, stall long enough for Quintana or Chatwood to build up their pitch count to that of a bona fide starter.
Both started throwing programs this week. Playing catch on flat ground, Chatwood threw from 105 feet on Thursday, Cubs manager David Ross said. Quintana is a day behind him. Both are scheduled to throw a bullpen in the next few days.
“Realistically you’ve got to wait for those guys to get off the mound to have a better idea of where they fit in,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “Obviously they won’t have a chance to get stretched out, but certainly don’t rule out contributions from both those guys in shorter roles before the end of the season.”
So, when the Cubs run out of off days, they could give Alzolay another spot start, likely in a game with playoff implications. Or they could call on Colin Rea or Tyson Miller – both presenting as much of a gamble as Alzolay. Or, if Chatwood and/or Quintana is healthy, maybe they opt for a piggyback setup.
For now, the answer to the hole in the Cubs rotation remains as hazy as the weather Friday.