Column: Do the Chicago Cubs — and new manager Craig Counsell — have their 1st closer controversy?

It looked so simple from afar.

Craig Counsell would hand the ball to his closer in Milwaukee, and the Brewers would walk away with a win.

But the easiest decision Counsell had to make on a daily basis in his nine years in Milwaukee already has become one of the most difficult ones in his first month of managing the Chicago Cubs.

After Bryan De La Cruz’s two-run home run off Adbert Alzolay on a 2-0 pitch with one out in the ninth gave the Miami Marlins the lead in their 3-2 win in Game 1 of a doubleheader, Counsell had his first closer controversy in Chicago.

“We need Adbert to get outs, regardless of where it is,” Counsell said between games Saturday at Wrigley Field. “No matter where it is, we need Adbert to be an effective member of the bullpen, and I strongly believe he will be. We need outs. … It obviously stings when it comes at the end of the game there, but we need outs, and Abdert is going to get us big outs this year.”

The Cubs clubhouse was closed between games, and Alzolay was not made available to the media.

The Cubs rallied for four runs in the sixth inning in the nightcap for a 5-3 victory to earn the split, rebounding from the heartbreaking loss in the opener to improve to 13-8. Hector Neris came on in the ninth and gave up a one-out single to bring the tying run to the plate before retiring the final two batters for his first save as a Cub.

In Game 1, Alzolay suffered his fourth blown save in seven opportunities after he blew only three saves in 25 chances in 2023, his first year in the role. He also has served up four home runs in 10 innings after giving up five in 64 last year.

Counsel never had to worry much about ninth innings with the Brewers with All-Stars Josh Hader and Devin Williams in the bullpen. In 2020 and ‘21, Hader had three blown saves in 50 combined opportunities, a 94% conversion rate. Williams, who became Hader’s replacement in summer 2022 when the Brewers traded the left-hander to the San Diego Padres, converted 89% of his save opportunities (51-of-57) in ‘22 and ‘23.

Photos: Chicago Cubs lose to Miami Marlins 3-2 in Game 1 of a doubleheader

Asked before Game 1 if he would consider making a change at closer, Counsell didn’t specifically answer.

“Adbert hasn’t pitched that poorly,” he said. “The runs he’s given up have been in very tight games, unfortunately. That’s the situation the games Adbert has pitched in have gone so far. That’s just kind of the way it is. We need outs from Adbert. We need outs late in the game from Adbert, and we’re going to continue to rely on him to get those outs.”

Counsell backed up his faith in Alzolay by giving him the ball in the eighth for a potential four-out save.

President Jed Hoyer said Friday that the bright side was that Alzolay was able to bounce back after blown saves.

“Adbert is giving up homers, that’s been the challenge,” Hoyer said. “He’s had some really good outings, but certainly three different times he’s given up homers. … The good thing is it doesn’t seem to have any residual effect of those things, which is important in that role.”

The Cubs bullpen is a growing concern because of a rib stress fracture injury to reliable Julian Merryweather and a lack of innings from the starters. The Cubs entered Saturday’s doubleheader with the second-fewest total innings in the majors from their starting pitchers, putting an undue burden on the bullpen. It might be early, but the trend needs to change.

A Cubs starter has pitched as long as six innings only three times in the first 20 games — including one game in which reliever Luke Little served as the one-inning opener. No starter has come close to venturing into the seventh.

Javier Assad threw well in Game 1 but was removed after 87 pitches and 4⅔ innings after two walks, a single and a sacrifice fly. He allowed one run on three hits with three walks.

Assad was saved of two runs in the first by a two-out circus catch in left field by Alexander Canario, who misjudged a fly by Jesus Sanchez, went back and made a leaping grab before spinning and tumbling to the grass. Assad said he “jumped when I saw that” and was “pumped up” by the catch. He retired 10 of the next 11 men he faced but tired in the fifth.

Leading 2-1 in the eighth, Alzolay replaced Mark Leiter Jr. with two on and two outs, then loaded the bases with a walk before inducing Vidal Brujan to fly to left. But a one-out single to Luis Arraez in the ninth preceded De La Cruz’s two-run home run on a 94-mph fastball, and the crowd of 36,379 deflated like a helium balloon hitting an electrical line.

The Cubs had runners in scoring position with one out in the ninth, but Tanner Scott struck out Alexander Canario and Nico Hoerner grounded to first to end it. Patrick Wisdom’s two-run, third-inning triple was the only offense they could muster.

Sunday’s finale against the Marlins could be the biggest in years for Kyle Hendricks, whose spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy.

How significant is it for Hendricks?

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“We need a good start,” Counsell replied. “After (17) innings of baseball. Kyle needs a good start. For (himself), he needs a good start.”

Hoyer said much the same Friday when addressing Hendricks’ early-season command problems.

“His place in Cubs history is secure, I don’t think anything is going to change that,” Hoyer said. “He’s struggling. His velocity is actually the same, if not a tick up from last year. So his location and his execution have been poor, and obviously he’d paid for it. He’s faced good lineups. Clearly he knows he has to pitch better.”

Hoyer added the confident Hendricks would “figure it out,” while Counsell warned it can’t be considered just another “slow start” by a veteran with a history of slow starts.

“I’m not sure what to make of that,” Counsell said of Hendricks’ poor Aprils. “Kyle knows he needs to pitch better. There are slow starts, but this is a little more than a slow start right now. I think he would tell you that.”