CHICAGO -- It hasn't exactly been an everyday or even every year occurrence for the Chicago Cubs under Theo Epstein and his front office: A homegrown pitcher making his way to the big leagues with the stuff to stick around. All that might have changed on Thursday, when 24-year-old Venezuelan righty Adbert Alzolay made a stunning debut in the Cubs 7-4 win over the New York Mets.
Alzolay pitched four-plus innings in relief, retiring 12 of the first 13 batters he faced -- including 11 in a row -- until a ninth-inning home run and a walk chased him from the game. He dazzled, striking out five with a solid arsenal, led by his changeup, his third-best pitch.
"He has the potential, for years to come, to be that guy," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The stuff is really good. Good delivery, strike thrower. He has the kind of ability that he can transform a group."
Once he settled in, Alzolay began to shine. A one-out walk to the second batter he faced got him focused, as he struck out four in a row soon after. He is the first Cubs pitcher in the expansion era to accomplish that feat while making his debut. Alzolay sailed through innings five through eight, before tiring in the ninth.
"After the walk [in the fifth], man on first, Robinson Cano stepping into the batter's box and I was like, 'You have to work now,'" a smiling Alzolay said after the game. "I was feeling normal. Then when I look at the first hitter I was like, 'Oh my God, everything is coming through right now. My dream that I always had as a kid is coming through.'"
The Cubs have traded some of their prospects over the past few years in order to keep their window of winning open for as long as possible, but their inability to develop pitching in-house isn't something they've shied away from. Until Thursday, they had failed at that task.
"If you're running the organization, it's a big deal," Maddon said before the game. "When you have them right out of the womb, there's a lot of investment in that. There's always a sense of pride in developing.
"The fact that we've had a hard time developing pitchers at the big league level, it's good to get your feet on the ground with that, and then try to recreate the template as you move it along. I think everyone takes a strong pride in watching his development."
In other words, the Cubs are hoping Alzolay is the first of many arms that finally make it through their system under Epstein and Maddon's regime. Alzolay's next task will be to start a game -- something that could take place in five days, as Kyle Hendricks spends time on the injured list with a sore shoulder.
For now, the affable Alzolay will simply enjoy the moment. He said his mom and dad were watching the game back in Venezuela and then were crying with him on the phone afterward. The Wrigley Field crowd also was watching with great interest and showed him love with a standing ovation as he came out of the game in the ninth. He acknowledged the fans accordingly.
"Everyone was standing up, going crazy, so I just tipped my hat," Alzolay said, still smiling. "The best thing to happen to me right now. Just amazing. All the people were cheering my name. Did my job, did my part. We won the game. Just amazing."
It's unclear what the protocol is for a rookie as he walks off the mound, but Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo summed it up well. You only get one chance at a first impression. Alzolay made a good one.
"That's funny," Rizzo said of Alzolay's cap wave. "You enjoy the moment. You only get one big league debut.
"It was an exciting day."