Cubs need Alec Mills to prove he can stick in the rotation

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the Cubs’ most memorable moments from last year’s pandemic-shortened campaign came in the form of a no-hitter – the first thrown by a Chicago pitcher since Jake Arrieta back in 2016.

Soft-tossing right-hander Alec Mills accomplished the feat, one that he’ll undoubtedly remember for the rest of his days. But the question for Mills – and the Cubs – is whether he’ll be known just for that no-no or if it was just the first step in a lengthy big league career.

More from Cubbies Crib

Mills and teammate Adbert Alzolay are the front-runners for the fifth spot in the rotation. While you may read that and think it’s going to leave someone as the odd man out, that’s not necessarily the case. Pitching depth will be critical in 2021 as guys reacclimate to the grind of a 162-season after last season’s 60-game sprint.

"“It’s going to take a whole lot more than five starters to get through this season,” Mills said. “To jump from 60 to 162 [games] is a lot of innings to jump. It’s just something that we’re going to have to kind of tackle as it happens.”"

Last year, Mills was a mixed bag. He finished the season with a 4.48 ERA/5.44 FIP in 11 starts. His strikeout numbers plummeted to just 6.6 per nine, something Chicago will be keeping an eye on this time around.

Cubs: Alec Mills needs to avoids the ups and downs

Left-handed hitters were notably better against Mills than righties – finishing the year with an .888 OPS, over 350 points higher. In terms of home and road splits, the righty was relatively neutral. Really, a rough month of August is what proved costly to his end-of-season line.

He made five starts that month, but struggled to a 5.74 ERA (17 ER/26.2 IP). Chicago will look for consistency from Mills, in whatever role he ends up taking this season. When he was good, he was very good (1.29 ERA/0.800 WHIP in wins) and when he lost, he lost badly (8.14 ERA/1.603 WHIP).

"“One great thing about Alec is he’s really [willing] to do whatever to help the team,” Chicago manager David Ross said. “I’ve talked to him multiple times. And he’ll pitch big innings for us — in maybe a bullpen role, maybe a starter role. Who knows? We don’t know that yet.”"

Don't sleep on what Joc Pederson could do for the Cubs. dark. Next

A swing-man role, similar to the one Mike Montgomery once filled for the team, seems likely for Mills. The team needs versatility from its pitching staff if it is going to be successful in 2021 – and the former 22nd-round pick will be a key part of that.