Alzolay embracing bullpen role for Cubs

After finishing off the Tampa Bay Rays with a two-inning save on Tuesday night, Adbert Alzolay delivered a good impression of his longtime pal Justin Steele.

Alzolay's scream and arm pump was reminiscent of Steele's celebration against the Dodgers in 2021 that often gets replayed.

"It makes me pretty fired up when you're facing this kind of lineup, you're facing pretty much the best team in baseball right now," Alzolay said before Wednesday's series finale. "Everything just comes together and all the energy from the crowd feeding into the last out gets you fired up."

So Tuesday's result featured both legitimate emotions and maybe a glimpse into Alzolay's potential as a closer. He rolled through six batters with 4 strikeouts.

The Venezuela native started 21 games for the Cubs in 2021, missed most of last season with an elbow injury, and is now embracing his new role.

"I feed off the energy and I feel like when the game's on the line, it just makes my stuff way better in the moment because I feel like my adrenaline just goes through the roof and that allows me to go to an extra gear with my stuff," he said. "That's the difference for me.

"I feel like as a starting pitcher, I have to manage my velo, I have to manage the way I'm pitching because you face the same guy three times. So it was different. Coming out of the bullpen, I feel that I can just fire all my best stuff right away."

One of Alzolay's issues in '21 was not having great success against left-handed hitters. That's turned around completely. This season, lefties are hitting .154 against him and right-handers .215, heading into Wednesday's action.

"It's just attacking them right away. Don't let them get ahead in the count," he said. "I feel like I was showing my slider to them too much. I have kind of learned how to manipulate the grip on my sliders. I can backdoor it, short it or just throw it over the plate.

"Making that adjustment has made me better against left-handed hitters. Then the addition of my cutter too. It's just three different breaking balls I'm using."

Alzolay took the mound again Wednesday in the eighth and gave up a couple singles, but got a double play to end the inning with no damage.

But closer still TBA:

Manager David Ross pumped the brakes on the idea Adbert Alzolay proved he can be the Cubs' closer.

"We can't fall into this space where somebody has a good outing and they're the savior or somebody gets called up and they're the savior of the bullpen," Ross said. "We're going to have to lean on all of them."

Alzolay (2.42 ERA) and Mark Leiter Jr. have been the Cubs' two best relievers, although Leiter gave up a pair of 2-run homers Wednesday. Alzolay has taken 3 losses this month, but has been unscathed in the other eight most recent outings.

No one in the Cubs bullpen has more than 2 saves. The plan heading into the season was to play it by ear and the two most notable veteran additions, Brad Boxberger and Michael Fulmer, have been injured and ineffective.

Around the horn:

There haven't been any specific updates about center fielder Cody Bellinger (knee) returning to full activities, so it looks like he'll miss at least the start of the upcoming West Coast trip, if not all of it. ... Nico Hoerner was in the lineup Wednesday as the designated hitter for the third time in his career, while Miles Mastrobuoni started at second base.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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