Chicago Cubs acquire bullpen help in a trade for reliever Tyson Miller; Adbert Alzolay diagnosed with flexor strain

ATLANTA — Tyson Miller relaxed at a lake in Seattle while waiting in limbo following the Mariners’ decision to designate the right-hander for assignment Friday.

Miller got a little sunburned but embraced the mental break and got in plyo ball work to keep his arm in shape over the weekend. Miller heard from some family members who pondered whether the Cubs would get him. As a fourth-round pick of the Cubs in 2016, he thought that would be a funny outcome.

And then he got the call he was reuniting with the Cubs. They acquired Miller for minor-league infielder Jake Slaughter late Sunday night. Left-hander Richard Lovelady was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. Miller joined the team Monday in Atlanta. He pitched two innings in the Cubs’ 7-0 loss, striking out one while giving up no runs, hits or walks.

“It’s a little reunion, it’s nice,” Miller said. “It was a little surprising (to be DFA’d). I mean, they said I did everything I needed to do, so just guys coming off injuries and stuff like that happens.”

The Cubs lost right-hander Adbert Alzolay to the 15-day injured list Monday with a right forearm strain. He is the fifth reliever on the IL and leaves the Cubs with only three remaining from their opening-day roster: Mark Leiter Jr., Héctor Neris and José Cuas, who was recalled to replace Alzolay. The mounting injuries prompted the move to add Miller.

“Safe to say that we’re looking for any good pitcher and any good reliever right now,” general manager Carter Hawkins said Monday. “So we will continue to do that. His profile happened to be one that can get right-handers out, it fits well with some of the injuries that we’ve had. But we certainly won’t be picky as we’re looking for upgrades and we’ll continue to make sure we’re canvassing every opportunity for that.”

Imaging Alzolay underwent on Monday revealed a flexor strain, an encouraging diagnosis given the level of concern around the team following the injury. Alzolay won’t throw for five days and then will be evaluated to determine the next steps. The Cubs don’t have an exact timeframe for Alzolay’s return but anticipate it being on par with his recovery from a right forearm strain in September when he missed 19 days.

“We’re gonna treat it for a little while here, but we’re not a long way off from possibly picking up the ball again, and that’s good news,” Counsell said. “So we’ll see how the rest of this week goes and then go from there. … We have some light at the end of the tunnel quickly.”

Alzolay said he felt a little soreness in his forearm before the tightness while warming up before the 10th inning Sunday, however, nothing he was concerned about. But once he felt the tightness Sunday, it didn’t go away and increased in intensity with each pitch. He got through the inning to record his first save in nearly a month.

“When I felt it, I just put it in the back of my mind,” Alzolay said. “I was like, I just need to get three outs. I was pretty much the last guy out of the bullpen at that time so it was a mindset of just get out of the inning, that’s it.”

The timing of the injury comes when Alzolay felt more like his old self and believed his mechanics were close to where he needed them. As for whether the IL stint can help him mentally given his struggles this season, Alzolay made clear that “I don’t think I needed a mental reset, to be honest. I don’t think that was part of what was going on.”

The organization’s familiarity with Miller comes on many levels. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy knows him well from working with him in the past during spring training and when he appeared in two games in 2020. Miller pitched in seven games last season with Milwaukee under manager Craig Counsell. He’s also reunited with a few teammates from the minors, most notably Justin Steele, whom Miller had remained in contact with over the last three-plus years.

Related Articles

It’s been a winding journey since the Cubs designated Miller in 2021 and he was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers. He has bounced around frequently on waivers since then, with the Cubs now becoming the sixth organization he’s played for in that span. After joining Seattle, he had an hour-long meeting where they outlined what works best among his stuff and provided numbers and video to prove why. Miller understandably didn’t want to reveal any game-plan strategies he developed but said pitching to his strengths has played a big role in his success this year.

“A new coaching staff, new eyes on you every two months was a little different so a lot of people try and tell you ‘try this, try that’ but the Mariners helped with just keeping it simple,” Miller said. “We broke down year by year what team, what they told me, what they liked me doing, what they banged.”

Miller struck out 10 and walked one hitter in 11 2/3 innings (nine appearances) while posting a 3.09 ERA for the Mariners, whom he signed with in November as a free agent. He credits a new slider grip the Mariners showed him this spring that helped him develop a more consistent slider with his arm slot that gives the pitch a little more rise instead of drop, which has made it more effective.

Slaughter, 27, didn’t have a clear path to the majors with the Cubs, allowing them to reallocate their resources and depth. He had a .297 average, 879 OPS and 11 extra-base hits in 32 games this season with Triple-A Iowa.

Miller, 28, does not have any minor-league options remaining.

“They just showed me the right game plan for me that fits,” Miller said of his time in Seattle. “Our big thing was just Plan A, don’t deviate from Plan A with guys and it was working.”