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Adbert Alzolay's future as a Cubs starter is up in the air after injury

Ryan Herrera Avatar
March 16, 2022

MESA, Ariz. — On the surface, Adbert Alzolay tried to not let his smile leave his face completely.

When he met with reporters in the Cubs’ clubhouse on Tuesday morning, Alzolay tried to remain that same, positive Adbert that his teammates know him to be.

“He’s someone who, he might have better energy than me. You know, what I mean?” said Marcus Stroman, who was able to connect with Alzolay not long after signing with Chicago on Dec. 1. “He’s so positive, man. He’s contagious, and I love that.”

As he spoke, though, Alzolay was more somber than he usually is during interviews.

It’s not like that mood wasn’t understandable. His newest injury was revealed by president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer on Monday, and on Tuesday, the disappointment in his voice was more than clear to those listening.

Initially reported as shoulder tightness, Alzolay went into specifics about what was clarified as a lat strain that’s likely to put him on the injured list to start the season. Alzolay said it was an issue in his lat muscle, the type of injury that he also suffered in 2018 which wiped out most of his season.

Alzolay had been throwing a bullpen about three-and-a-half weeks ago when he felt some tightness in the area around his right armpit. He stopped throwing immediately went to see the doctor and got an MRI done on his right shoulder. The scan revealed the injury, and he got a PRP injection last week. He said it would be about four weeks from then that he could actually begin some baseball activities, and from there, how long the recovery will take is still unclear.

“It’s just very disappointing at this point, because I feel that all the work I have put in during this offseason, it just got wasted pretty much,” Alzolay said. “I feel that I was preparing my body to be competing for the spot in the rotation and then just be there the whole season. I feel that we’ve got a goal to go and throw a lot more innings this year, but now we’ve just got to wait for it.”

About that rotation spot …

Though it wasn’t set in stone that Alzolay was going to be a Cubs starter this season, it would’ve been a surprise if he finished camp outside the rotation. He did move to the bullpen last September, but that was when he’d just come off his second IL stint of the season and the team also wanted to limit his innings for the year. This season, he was very much in the mix for one of the spots behind presumed starters Stroman, Kyle Hendricks and Wade Miley, but now, it’ll be some time before Alzolay can join that competition.

“Extremely tough, man,” Stroman said. “He’s someone who I feel like he was gonna turn that corner, become a guy guy this year, just be someone who’s gonna be a perennial guy to go out there, 180 innings and give you 3-4 WAR. So, hopefully it’s only a setback. Obviously, he knows I’m in his corner. We talked, and I’m pretty sure he’ll be able to get through it. But yeah, hopefully he’ll come back stronger from it.”

Other teammates shared Stroman’s view.

“Obviously, that really stinks to hear,” Alec Mills said. “A guy that loves to play baseball and loves to pitch as much as he does, it’s pretty disheartening to hear that, but he’ll do what he needs to do to get back and ready to pitch and we’re gonna try to hold it down while he’s gone.”

Manager David Ross actually revealed later Tuesday that he believed Mills deserved a shot to be a starter, and he is planning on having Mills in the rotation to start the season. While Mills certainly planned to compete for the job, he made it clear that he took no excitement in Alzolay’s injury opening a larger opportunity for him.

“If you want to pitch, you’ve got to beat everybody,” he said. “Nobody ever wants to wish an injury (on anyone). I guess maybe I can fill in that spot that maybe he has, but obviously, we’re all competing. You’ve got to beat the best to be the best, so.”

Justin Steele was just as disappointed when he heard Alzolay’s news, not only because Alzolay is a teammate but because the two basically started with the organization and moved through the system at the same time. They built a deep connection over those years in the minors — Alzolay considers Steele to be one of his best friends — which would’ve made for a fun competition between the two this spring.

Realistically, they both could’ve earned rotation jobs with strong performances in March. But now, Steele has a new leg up (despite how little he wanted it to come in that fashion) while Alzolay will have a long road ahead of him to get back to starting games for Chicago.

To his credit, Alzolay lit right back up when asked about some of those other starters on the staff. Whether he was talking about a long-time friend in Steele — “I’m just excited for him. He’s looking great. He’s in great shape right now, so I just can’t wait to see him out there and start doing his job” — or an offseason acquisition in Stroman — “I’m learning about his routine, all he does, because the guy is just a freak athlete. So just seeing him around and seeing the way that he works, it’s just impressive” — he couldn’t help but show that enthusiasm he’s been known for.

It’s the same enthusiasm he’ll be showing throughout his rehab process, which should begin with some baseball activities in a few weeks.

“I expect him to attack it head on,” Steele said. “I expect him to really get after it in the weight room and in the rehab process. If I had to put my money on it, I’d say he’s gonna come back even better and stronger and Cubs fans and everybody’s just gonna be thankful for it.”

Once all of that is in the past, once he finally rejoins the team, there may not be a rotation spot available for him. But even if he spends the rest of 2022 coming out of the ‘pen, Alzolay is just pumped for the day he’s back on the bump pitching for the Chicago Cubs.

“I can’t wait for that moment,” Alzolay said. “I feel that we all here know what is the goal right now. Just as a pitcher, I’m talking to the pitching staff here, like Kyle Hendricks, Stroman. I feel like we all were kind of on the same page through the whole offseason, like we all knew the goal coming here is to go compete and get one of those postseason spots.

“I just feel that, whenever I’m ready — one month, two months — I can help the team.”

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