Cubs rotation firing on all cylinders in the early going
One turn through the Cubs rotation, here’s where the starting staff stands:
3 quality starts
And only 14 hits allowed in 30 innings pitched.
This is the first time a Cubs rotation has allowed as few as 14 hits in the first 5 games of the season since at least 1901 (courtesy Cubs historian Ed Hartig).
That’s a heck of a start for the Cubs 1/12 of the way through the shortened season. And this is all without José Quintana, who will throw his first bullpen Wednesday in his recovery from a thumb laceration.
Alec Mills was the latest Cubs starter to step up with a big performance in Tuesday’s 8-5 win over the Reds in Cincinnati, the third straight victory for David Ross’ club.
Mills gave up only 2 hits — both to Nicholas Castellanos — and a pair of walks in 6 innings, striking out 3. His only blemish was a 2-run shot by Castellanos, a sight Cubs fans are familiar with after the outfielder’s epic two-month stint in Chicago late last season.
“He pitched his tail off. That’s a nice outing, especially for a guy overcoming not getting to face other competition in short camp,” said David Ross, alluding to the fact Mills did not appear in an exhibition game and only faced his teammates in simulated settings in summer camp.
Mills, 28, was originally ticketed for a multi-inning role out of the Cubs bullpen before the shutdown but with Quintana’s injury, slid into the Opening Day rotation and continued his big-league success. Coming into Tuesday night’s game, Mills had a 3.17 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 54 innings with the Cubs over the last two seasons.
“I think in my heart, I always felt like I belonged,” Mills said. “It was just a matter of me earning the job and them giving it to me. Obviously what happened with Q is unfortunate, but I just want to take this and run with it and make them make the tough decision.”
Mills threw 17 pitches under 70 mph in Tuesday’s game — all curveballs — with the slowest was clocked at 64.9 mph. Meanwhile, he sat at 91-92 mph with his fastball and sinker.
“I’ve only watched him pitch up until summer camp,” David Bote said. “It’s similar to Kyle Hendricks in that, you’re like, where’s the out pitch? What gets people so tied up? I faced him in summer camp and it was not a fun at-bat. I don’t even know what it is. It’s just like the speed discrepancies, he’s locating his fastball, he gets people off balance, soft contact.
“The dude goes out there and he bulldogs it and he throws strikes. That’s a big part of it — he gets soft contact because he’s pounding the zone and he’s mixing speeds and that goes a long way.”
Offensively, the Cubs were without Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras, but that didn’t matter.
Jason Kipnis got the lineup going with a high fly ball to lead off the 3rd inning that Reds outfielder Shogo Akiyama lost in the sun. Kipnis motored to third with a triple and a few pitches later, Nico Hoerner singled him home.
Kipnis added an RBI single the next inning and after Castellanos’ homer, Kyle Schwarber gave the Cubs the lead for good. Javy Báez doubled with 2 outs and came around to score on an incredible slide on Schwarber’s 2-strike hit.
A Hoerner sacrifice fly, Báez homer and Bote solo blast tacked on key insurance runs for Mills and the bullpen. Báez put the game out of reach with a 2-run shot in the top of the 9th inning to round out his huge day on the diamond.
The Cubs scored in 7 straight innings Tuesday night, the first time they’ve accomplished such a feat since Sept. 6, 2008.
The Cubs are now 4-1 on the season and are guaranteed at least a split in this four-game series with the Reds in Cincinnati. Catch all the Game 3 action Wednesday evening on Marquee Sports Network with coverage beginning at 4:30 p.m.