ZEBULON, N.C.—Adbert Alzolay doesn’t want the hitter to think about what’s coming. He wants to dictate the pace of the at-bat and, ultimately, the game. So when he gets the ball back from the catcher, he doesn’t take more than a couple of seconds before he’s back on the rubber and ready to go again.
The Myrtle Beach righthander is on the mound to attack, and part of his strategy is to keep hitters as off-balance as possible.
“I’ve been working with my pitching coach on my delivery since spring training,” he said. “Now, I just lock in. I get the sign and try to be aggressive with all my pitches every single outing. When I’m pitching, I don’t like when we give a chance to the hitter to think about the pitches. I think if you are quick with your pitches, you can do everything.”
Alzolay was a late sign as an 18-year-old out of Venezuela, and had put together a decent career in the minor leagues before struggling some last season in the Midwest League. He’s fared far better in high Class A, working to a 5-1, 2.72 mark with just 39 hits allowed in 53 innings. The resurgence is, in part, due to a spike in velocity.
His fastball sat between 95-96 mph in his most recent start, with just five of his first 35 fastballs dipping lower than 95 mph. Oddly, the only he time his heater went below 95 came on the first pitches of each inning, when the pitches were clocked at 93 and 94 before he cranked it back up a notch.
The fastball also featured late, two-seam bite, and he coupled the pitch with an average, downer curveball in the low 80s, and below-average changeup with a touch of fade in the high 80s.
The uptick in velocity, he said, is due to work with pitching coach Anderson Tavares that has helped him incorporate his legs more in his delivery.
“Last year, in my last three outings, I was sitting in that range, too,” he said. “I’m finishing my pitches more and I’m using my legs too, so I think that is the key for my velocity now. I decided to use my legs more and just finish the pitches more.”
Tavares, who also coached Alzolay in 2015 with short-season Eugene, has noticed a change from the pitcher he saw two years ago. Specifically, he’s pitching with a much greater pace. Alzolay said that change was to keep the hitters from thinking. Tavares said it also allows Alzolay less time to think and more time to be aggressive.
“He looks better, more aggressive, quicker. His mechanics are a little bit quicker,” he said. “That gets his arm on time (on the top of his delivery) and helps him get out front every time. It makes him better because he doesn’t think when he does that. I like the guys who pitch quickly. They do their thinking before the outing. They just trust their stuff and trust the process that we use and just attack.”
And while Alzolay doesn’t want the hitters to think, he also tries to clear his mind as best as possible. To do that, he’s begun meditating every day at the behest of the Cubs mental skills coach and former big leaguer Darnell McDonald.
“I just started to do that last year,” he said. “It’s kind of boring, but since last year I started and it makes me feel more comfortable and in control. I just focus on my breath. Sometimes I just focus on my breathing, and if you relax everything is going to be OK.”
Unless you’re an opposing hitter. In that case, Alzolay doesn’t want you to get a chance to relax.
Earlier this season, our Kyle Glaser took a look at Cubs righthander Thomas Hatch, who was making his return to the mound after sitting out the 2015 season at Oklahoma State with an elbow strain and was limited to the instructional as a pro after being drafted in the third round last year.
Hatch looked good that day, but nothing like he did on Sunday against Carolina, when he struck out 13 in just 5.1 innings. His fastball sat between 92-94 mph early in the season, but was comfortably between 93-95 for the duration of his outing on Sunday. Even more impressively, the fastball featured vicious two-seam life in on the hands of righties.
In the first two innings, Hatch got nine swings and misses on his fastball alone, including a stretch of four straight to close the second inning. He complemented the fastball with a hard-biting slider that showed flashes of being a plus pitch and changeup in the low 80s.
“He had a good day today. He was on both sides of the plate,” Carolina first baseman Jake Gatewood said. “He threw me a good pitch with two strikes low and away. You’ve just got to tip your cap. … He had some good two-seam and some good sink.”
Brewers lefthander Kodi Medeiros, on in the second half of a piggyback with fellow Hawaiian Jordan Yamamoto, sat between 93-95 with hard, natural cut life on his fastball and struck out seven in 3.1 innings. He also featured a hard slider in the mid-80s with two-plane break, including this wicked pitch to end an inning.
Medeiros still needs to sharpen his control—as shown by three walks on Sunday and 16 in 44.2 innings this season—but he has the ingredients to be a weapon in Milwaukee if everything comes together.