In need of a fifth starting pitcher given the injuries to Adbert Alzolay, Wade Miley and Alec Mills, the Cubs will look to right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. against the Rockies on Saturday night, giving the former 22nd-round pick his first big league action since 2017.
He’ll join the Cubs in Denver via the team’s Triple-A affiliate, with whom he already has one four-inning effort under his belt. In that start, he struck out seven and allowed just one run as he built on a strong Cactus League resume from the spring.
Down in Arizona, the 31-year-old was superb, tossing 9 2/3 innings and working to a 0.93 ERA and 1.241 WHIP. Of course, you take that with a grain of salt given the level of competition he faced, but it was still nice to see him find success in spring training.
Last season with Minnesota, he spent with with both the Double-A and Triple-A affiliates and really rebounded after missing all of 2019 due to Tommy John and then 2020 because of the pandemic. On the whole, he was a solid arm, making 19 starts and a half-dozen relief appearances, working to a cumulative 3.77 ERA, 1.072 WHIP and 4.68 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
That led to the Cubs picking him up this offseason for just such an occasion. Coming out an offseason ravaged by the lockout on the heels of a couple highly irregular years, pitching depth is going to be more critical than ever – and that’s where Chicago hopes Leiter Jr. can step in and perform.
A quick check-in on the bevy of Cubs pitching injuries heading into the weekend
Of Alzolay, Miley and Mills, it seems as if Mills is the closest to returning. He’s scheduled to throw a sim game on Saturday – and coming off both a back issue and illness – it’s safe to assume the Cubs will be careful with the righty.
Last season, Mills worked to a 4.49 FIP while splitting time between the rotation and bullpen. According to Ross, he’s expected to fill a similar role here in 2022.
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Miley has progressed to long-tossing from 120 feet but hasn’t yet gotten back on a mound. Of course, he was the team’s first addition last winter – but is yet to throw a pitch here in the regular season. Getting him back could really round out a rotation that’s, by and large, been a pleasant surprise early on.