Under the Wrigley Field lights, with a two-run game on the line, it was time for the Cubs to bring in their closer. It was time for... Alec Mills.
Yes, you read that right.
The Cubs’ All-Star closer, Craig Kimbrel, had pitched the previous two nights. So, on Monday, Cubs manager David Ross turned to a pitcher who has started over twice as many games as he’s finished. And Mills threw a 1-2-3 inning.
The Cubs beat the Brewers 5-3 Monday.
“After the second out, for everybody stand up was pretty surreal,” Mills said Tuesday. “Pretty cool moment for me. Kind of had to sit down and calm down afterwards. It's usually not the moment that I'm in, but I feel like I can pitch in that moment.”
Mills didn’t enter spring training vying for save opportunities. He was competing for a starting rotation spot. Instead, Cubs manager David Ross named rookie Adbert Alzolay the fifth starter to open the season. Alzolay is scheduled to take the mound Tuesday against the Brewers.
“Not going to lie, it didn't feel great,” Mills said of losing the position battle. “But at the same time, I think Bertie is more than ready to have success and more than ready to help us win.”
Ross said when he has conversations like the one he had with Mills, he doesn’t want them to be excited about not starting. But he tried to emphasize to Mills the versatility that made the right-hander a strong bullpen option.
“He’ll get starts this year,” Ross said Tuesday. “I have no doubt about that. There will be space for that at some point this season. But right now, that’s the role we put him in, and he’s embraced it and comes in with a great attitude very single day and works his tail off and stays ready for moments like last night.”
Technically, Mills’ save Monday was the second of his career. But he called it his first “real” save. Mills’ last save was a three-inning outing against the Pirates in 2019, a game the Cubs won 17-8.
Monday was different.
When Ross decided to put Mills in for the ninth inning, he said he was weighing things like pitch characteristics, pitch mix and Mills’ notoriously calm demeanor under pressure. Mills also threw a no-hitter against the Brewers last year.
“When you’re making decisions, trust is a big thing for me,” Ross continued. “He’s a guy that has gained some trust, and he’s had a lot of success against a lot of those guys in that lineup.”
Mills has made two relief appearances so far this year (both in the ninth inning) and retired all six batters he’s faced.
“I have the ability to pitch in many different situations,” Mills said. “And it's kind of job security for me.”
Need a spot start? Mills has done that before. Need an everyday starter? Mills filled that role last year. Need a middle-inning reliever? Mills is available.
Need a save? After Monday, add Mills’ name to the list behind Kimbrel.