Monday, April 22, 2024

Alzolay Out as Closer, Steele Nearing Game Action


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So, uhh, that series kinda sucked, huh? The Cubs split a four-game series against the Miami Marlins at home this past weekend and it included Adbert Alzolay’s fourth blown save of the season. Alzolay, who went 22-for-25 in save situation in 2023, is now out as the team’s closer. Meanwhile, there is encouraging news on the injury front as Justin Steele is nearing game action in his rehab from a hamstring strain.

The Cubs are now 13-9 this season and four of the losses have come after Alzolay has given up a home run with a one-run lead in the eighth or ninth inning. After surrendering up a go-ahead two-run homer to Bryan De La Cruz in game 1 of Saturday’s double header, Cubs manager Craig Counsell is re-thinking how the Cubs will get the final outs of a game moving forward.

Via Marquee Sports Network.

“I don’t think today he would be [the closer],” manager Craig Counsell said before Sunday’s game. “The job is always to be able to get 27 outs. The title of ‘closer’ is not an actual job. It’s just to get 3 outs generally or to get 4 outs or get the last outs of the game.

“And if in the long run, we have to do that in a different way, we’ll do it in a different way. If we can get Adbert back to it, that’d be great too.”

Veteran reliever Hector Neris came in for the save on Saturday night and worked around a one-out single to record his first save of the season, closing out a 5-3 win. On Sunday, the Cubs were trailing late to the Marlins and Counsell used a low-leverage spot to get Alzolay back out there and work through his struggles.

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Alzolay retired the side in order in the eighth inning on Sunday, getting two ground outs and then striking out Emmanuel Rivera on a slider.

For the second consecutive season the Cubs find themselves without a clear option to close out games in April. Last year, Alzolay took advantage of the opportunity and became one of the best relievers in baseball until he suffered a forearm strain in September.

Now, Alzolay has to regroup and figure out how to get back to that level if he wants to be the Cubs closer again in 2024. At the very least, Alzolay certainly has the confidence to excel in the high-pressure role.

Via the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I was built for that role,” the righthander told the Sun-Times on Sunday at Wrigley Field.

Alzolay, who already has four blown saves in seven chances this season, guarantees he’ll get his groove back.

“Oh, hell yeah,” he said. “I’m not going to suck for six months. I know I’m going to figure it out. It’s not even questionable. I’m not just going to be this guy for the next five months. I’ve got at least 55 more games to pitch, so I know I will figure it out.”

“My confidence is always there,” he said. “It’s just a little mechanics that’s going on and my pitches aren’t sinking the way they should be right now.”

Looking ahead, Neris seems like he’s turning the corner, although the command can get shaky as we’ve seen early on. However, Neris has now gone four straight appearances without allowing a run. Maybe getting out of that bases-loaded jam against the Seattle Mariners last week built up Neris’ confidence.

Another option might be Mark Leiter Jr., but his appearances are heavily dependent on matchups, especially when Counsell can bring him in to face lefties which have been dominated by Leiter’s splitter.

Or who knows, maybe the Cubs lean on rookie Ben Brown to get those outs in high-leverage spots? He certainly has the arsenal.

While this weekend’s series was a disappointment, you also can’t forget that the Cubs are still having success despite some major injuries. They lost their ace on Opening Day, but the Cubs are getting good news about Steele.

The left-handed starting pitcher was at Wrigley Field on Sunday and threw live BP, getting closer to a return.

The next step in Steele’s rehab process is a trip to Arizona, where the lefty will pitch in an extended spring training game on Friday.

So, maybe Steele comes back to the rotation in early May, possibly against the Milwaukee Brewers or San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field if all goes well in Arizona. Maybe the Cubs want him to get a rehab start in the minors, but if not that six-game home stand in two weeks could be his target date.

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