Alec Mills was supposed to have had the day off, but he ended up being forced into action when Tyler Chatwood was scratched due to a stiff back. The way the bespectacled righty approached the short-notice start deepened the respect of his manager, who has previously praised Mills’ calm demeanor.
“That was a really big start for us and for him,” David Ross said after the game. “The way he handled that just really felt like a veteran-type pitcher tonight. He did a great job in handling that adversity.”
Mills is a cerebral pitcher who has thrived at the MLB level in part due to the detailed scouting reports the Cubs provide. He’s able to build a plan and attack hitters with a wide array of pitches that he mixes and matches effectively rather than relying on pure power or raw stuff. Though that preparation was cut short by the nature of his start, Mills said afterward that timing was still in his favor.
‘‘A couple of hours after I got here, I kinda started figuring out it was a possibility of going today,’’ Mills said after the loss. ‘‘It had been a while since I had pitched, so I was definitely ready to go.’’
Mills started out hot, pitching a perfect game with six strikeouts through four innings and inducing lots of harmless contact on the ground. The wheels start to wobble a bit in the 5th, however, as a leadoff walk and three singles led to the Brewers’ first run of the game. Things got worse in the 6th, when a leadoff single and hit by pitch brought up Christian Yelich with two on and none out.
After getting the Brewers star looking and swinging in two previous at-bats, Mills cut loose a first-pitch hanging changeup that didn’t get the result he was hoping for.
“Just made a mistake to the best hitter in their lineup,’’ Mills said of the three-run homer. ‘‘He’s an MVP. Can’t let that happen.”
Though he finished the inning by retiring the next three batters in order, including his season-best seventh strikeout, the damage had been done. The Cubs were unable to scratch out another run over their next four turns and ended up dropping the kind of close game they’ve proven adept at pulling out so far this season.
Still, Mills stepped up on short notice and helped to save a bullpen that will be called upon quite often over the next week. Late struggles aside, he proved yet again that he’s a legit starting pitcher for a contending team. Given how well he’s been able to learn and adapt to this point, it’s possible this latest effort will actually help him to improve.
No one’s impervious to mistakes, of course, but many flubs are of the preventable variety and Mills appears to have the ability to engage in just that sort of prevention.