Cubs

Presented By Cubs Insiders
Cubs

Alec Mills may not be a household name, but he serves as a great example for a pair of high-profile pitchers on the Cubs roster.

The 27-year-old right-hander threw a pair of shutout innings Monday afternoon in Arizona as he continues to compete for a spot on the big-league roster and is walking proof of life after the mysterious forearm bone bruise diagnosis.

Before Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow dealt with the frustrating injury last year, Mills missed most of the 2017 season with the Cubs while fighting through a forearm bone bruise. He began that year in the Triple-A Iowa rotation, but only started 2 games, missed a month, came back for one 3-inning start in May before being shut down again until late August.

Mills' experience was similar to Darvish's and Morrow's, in that the injury was hard to nail down. For Darvish, it was a triceps injury and for Morrow, it popped up in the biceps, but the real diagnosis was more troubling.

Both Darvish and Morrow tried to make a comeback last summer and ultimately had to be shut down and later underwent debridement procedures to clean up their right elbows.

"It's frustrating," Mills said of the injury, though he didn't need the same elbow surgery. "It's one of those things where originally, it was very tough to diagnose. It took several MRIs to figure it out. Then they said, 'We don't know how it's gonna react. All you can do is sit and wait and see how it feels when you come back.'

 

"I know those guys were just as frustrated as I was going through it. They want to pitch, so I feel for them."

So why is the recovery from a forearm bone bruise so tricky?

"There's no treatment for it, really," Mills said. "Rest is kinda the only thing that can heal it and everybody's body reacts differntly."

Mills' injury is now firmly in the rearview mirror and he made it through a healthy 2018 season, pitching 142.2 innings between Triple-A Iowa and the big leagues. He turned heads in his brief time in Chicago in September, striking out 23 batters over 18 innings as a spot-starter and multi-inning reliever.

He also served as a resource for Darvish at Wrigley Field, answering questions about the recovery process and his own experience when he could. Mills admitted his bone bruise was a bit different than Darvish's, but both pitchers were initially worried about their elbows.

Darvish missed all of 2015 to Tommy John surgery and complained of pain in his elbow as he rehabbed through what they originally thought was a simple triceps injury.

Mills had Tommy John surgery in 2013 in the Royals organization and was a little concerned when the pain first popped up, but an MRI immediately ruled out any damage to the UCL ligament.

For Mills, that was comforting and anxiety-inducing at the same time.

"It helps to know [it wasn't UCL damage], but you go on not knowing and that's worse than knowing what it is and how to deal with it," Mills said. "You come back and you feel different things. It's frustrating because it hurts. It really hurts. 

"I know Yu made some sort of push to come back last year and he was on the mound and I remember reading how he talked about how he was in so much pain. I believe it."

Darvish is pain-free now and spinning the "best stuff of his life." Morrow threw from flat ground again Monday and is targeting a bullpen at the end of the month, according to MLB.com's Jordan Bastian.

Meanwhile, Mills is two years removed from the frustrating bone bruise and in Cubs camp willing to pitch in any role. He grew up a Cubs fan and finally got a taste of life at Wrigley Field last year.

The Cubs have a ton of pitchers in spring training, so Mills may get caught up in the numbers game and wind up starting the season in Iowa, representing big-league insurance in either the rotation or bullpen.

He's also fine-tuned his winter workouts in hopes of leaving any forearm injuries in the past.

"Sometimes, something has to happen for you to be proactive about something as far as your body," Mills said. "I think that's one of those freak things. Maybe you didn't do anything wrong, but sometimes, it makes you change your routine or warm-up a little differently according to your body. To an extent, whatever doesn't kill you does make you stronger."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.