Alzolay's slump has made Cubs' decisions easier

In a lot of ways, Adbert Alzolay's rough spring made some decisions easier for the Cubs.

They came into spring training with more than enough candidates for the starting rotation. And while some established big-leaguers like Zach Davies and Trevor Williams have pitched well, Alzolay with his 6 career starts has struggled with a 15.75 ERA.

At this point, Alzolay is a strong candidate to stay behind and keep working on his mechanics while the Cubs open the regular season on April 1 against Pittsburgh at Wrigley Field.

Manager David Ross said roster decisions have not yet been made, but talked about the dilemma on his Zoom call with reporters Wednesday.

"I remember sending him down last year and he was like, 'What are you talking about?'" Ross said. "He believes in himself, which you want every player to believe in themselves. That's a great thing.

"I think that speaks to how these competitors' mindset works. They think they belong. He's had success and has built on that and is growing. I'm glad he believes he belongs on the team. I believe he's going to be a really good major league pitcher."

Alzolay, 26, spent much of last summer's shortened season at the Cubs' alternate site in South Bend, working to expand his repertoire in the so-called pitching lab and it seemed to pay off. In his last two 2020 starts, the Venezuela native allowed 2 earned runs over 9 innings, with 15 strikeouts.

"I think the main thing he is working on is continue to execute pitches, making sure that slider shape stays where it was last year," Ross said. "I think that was a real turning point for him in his career, and the pitch shape that he developed and worked on was a real weapon.

"I think he's a guy that's really going to help us out. So balancing that with his development process, with how the roster shakes out, all that stuff comes into play."

Ross hasn't announced plans for an early-season rotation besides naming Kyle Hendricks the Opening Day starter. But it seems pretty clear he'll go with Davies, Williams and Jake Arrieta after Hendricks.

They may not need a fifth starter right away because of some off days, but when the time comes, Alec Mills figures to take that role. Shelby Miller, a former all-star with the Braves who hasn't pitched since 2019, is a candidate to make the opening-day roster as well.

NBC Sports Chicago reported that an arbitrator ruled Alzolay does have one minor league option remaining, which makes it much easier for the Cubs to send him to minor league camp for more work. Otherwise, he'd have to clear waivers, which the Cubs almost certainly wouldn't risk.

Cubs have positive test:

Manager David Ross said a player in Cubs camp tested positive for COVID-19, but did not name the player. He said no one else at the Mesa, Ariz., complex was affected.

Ross described a watch-like device everyone wears that can monitor contact-tracing. Ross said he wears his around his ankle.

"If someone happens to test positive, they're able to go to this program and see who's been around who and it saves the trainers a lot of work and a lot of phone calls," Ross said.

Romine progressing slowly:

The update on catcher Austin Romine continues to point to the likelihood of P.J. Higgins serving as backup catcher when the season begins. Romine, a free-agent addition, has been sidelined with a sore knee.

"He is throwing, he's in the weight room," Ross said. "The last thing you want is that swelling to come back in there."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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