Cubs News

Cubs spring notebook: Mills’ fire, bullpen banter and more

1 year agoTony Andracki

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Don’t tell Alec Mills spring training statistics don’t count.

He got the start Monday against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch and gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks in 3 innings. He didn’t like the results but he felt like it was an outing that could teach him more for the future.

“We’re competitors,” Mills said. “Obviously spring training doesn’t matter, but at the same time, I’m frustrated. But this is something where we can learn from it. Maybe go back to the drawing board and figure out what I need to do on days like that – whether it’s mentally or physically or attack hitters differently, maybe.

“It’s spring training — we’ll take it for what it is and hopefully got that one out of the way before the season starts.”

Mills is a crafty pitcher who relies on pinpoint control to get outs and his mechanics are crucial to success. But this isn’t the only time he felt like he was working against himself during a start.

“It’s funny, I was actually kinda battling my mechanics during the no-hitter and was able to figure things out,” he said, referencing last season’s historic outing in Milwaukee. “Baseball’s funny.”

Mills is confident he’ll be able to right the ship in his bullpens when he gets back to his strengths and stays balanced on the mound.

He will be counted on to fill a big role on the Cubs pitching staff in 2021 and the main takeaway from Monday’s outing was that he was able to build up to the desired level and came away healthy.

Wieck debuts

Left-handed reliever Brad Wieck made his Cactus League debut Monday against the White Sox, tossing a perfect inning with a strikeout.

The Cubs thought highly of Wieck after acquiring him at the trade deadline in 2019 and he had an impressive September that season. He made the Opening Day bullpen last year but appeared in just 1 game before missing the rest of the season with knee and hamstring injuries.

Wieck experienced a setback with the hamstring issue early in camp and threw a live bullpen against Cubs teammates last week in a build-up to game action.

“Brad has looked really good in live BPs,” David Ross said Monday morning. “I’m anxious to see him face some other opponents. He’s had a long road of coming back and a little bit of setback early in spring training and now he’s completely healthy and feeling good.

“[He got] some really bad swings off guys that are swinging the bat well in some live BPs. … He’s put a lot of work in in the offseason, so he’s kind of ahead of the game early on.”

Ross wouldn’t specifically say if there was enough time for Wieck to build up for the start of the regular season, but if so, the 29-year-old would be in the mix of left-handers for the Opening Day bullpen.

Second southpaw

Rex Brothers has emerged as a bonafide option if the Cubs want to carry a second southpaw in the bullpen alongside Andrew Chafin to begin the season.

Kyle Ryan has been slowed in camp by COVID protocols and has not yet appeared in a Cactus League game. If Wieck is not able to build up by April 1, Brothers could be the choice on the Opening Day roster.

He’s helped his case with an impressive spring (5 shutout innings).

“Rex has looked really good,” Ross said. “I threw him in the fire [Sunday] early on to real tough portion of the lineup for the Angels. Looked really good. Everything’s been around he zone. He’s throwing strikes.

“That’s really the only issue he’s had in his career is being around the plate. That hasn’t even been a blip on the radar for this spring training. 95-97 [mph] with a really good breaking ball, mixed his looks up, held the runner good yesterday. He’s looked really good.”

Tep time

Ryan Tepera got his first taste of game action this spring with an inning against the White Sox, allowing 3 hits and a run.

The veteran reliever was an important piece in the back end of the bullpen last season but was a late addition to camp this spring. His deal didn’t become official until March 2, so he spent the first couple of weeks throwing bullpens and getting his arm in shape.

Like Wieck, there still might be enough time on the calendar for Tepera to get up to speed before Opening Day. Some relievers only need 5-6 spring outings before they feel ready for the regular season.

Opening Day starter announcement

Just kidding. Ross is not ready to announce his starting pitcher for April 1 quite yet.

On Monday, he said it will happen “soon” but that hasn’t exactly been one of the hottest position battles in Cubs camp this spring.

Barring something crazy, Kyle Hendricks is the overwhelming favorite to take the ball at Wrigley Field against the Pirates to open the 2021 regular season.

Nico’s back

As in his back is ailing, not that he’s back in the lineup. Not quite yet, anyways.

Nico Hoerner was supposed to DH in Sunday’s game against the Angels but was scratched last minute with low back tightness.

He reported feeling much better Monday and pushed Ross to get into the day’s lineup against the White Sox, but the Cubs manager didn’t want to risk it. With Tuesday’s scheduled off-day for the Cubs, Hoerner will have more time off and likely return Wednesday night at Sloan Park.

Hoerner is battling for the starting second base job and is hitting .500 with a 1.383 OPS this spring in 7 games.

Bote bash

David Bote is also vying for that second base gig and he had a big day at the plate in Monday’s game with a pair of doubles, an RBI and a run scored.

He’s hitting .261 with an .824 OPS this spring and has started back-to-back Cactus League games at second base for the Cubs.

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