News and Notes: Joc Pederson’s spring, Alec Mills preparing to hit and more
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — This spring, David Ross was picking up some to-go food when a car pulled up and honked at him.
It was Ross’ new left fielder, Joc Pederson startling him.
“Scared the crap out of me,” Ross said with a smile. “Had me jump about 40,000 feet. He’s even picking on the manager a little bit in that way. He’s a fun guy. He keeps things loose.”
That lax personality is allowing Pederson to succeed at the plate. He’s amassed a whopping 1.672 OPS with 3 home runs and 7 RBI this spring.
“He’s having a great spring,” Ross said. “He’s just fit in real easily and he’s a pleasure to have around and when he’s playing like that, you can just tell how comfortable he is.”
Mills, pitchers prepping to hit
According to Ross, most pitchers’ don’t think the biggest bat added to the Cubs lineup was Pederson or any other offseason signing. It was the return of the pitchers themselves hitting.
“They’re all 4-hole hitters in their mind if you ask them,” Ross said late last week with a laugh. “They can’t wait to hit.”
While they jokingly believe they’re all cleanup hitters, they’re also aware of their situation.
“Every pitcher thinks that they can be a hitter,” Alec Mills said. “But at the same time, I’m a realist. I’ve been in the box and it is not easy. That is for sure.”
In 2020, with the shortened season and COVID-19 protocols, MLB and the Players Association adopted the universal designated hitter. That was dropped for 2021, with pitchers returning to hitting in 2021. Ross and the Cubs have yet to have a pitcher hit in a spring training game, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t preparing for that role.
“We’re definitely on top of that,” Ross said. “Just another detail that you bring back in the mix. Try to make it fun for them and get real work in.”
Mills is actually the only Cubs pitcher who had an at-bat in 2020. Down 13-2 in the 9th inning on August 6 against the Royals, Ross was out of hitters on his bench, so he turned to Mills to pinch hit for Craig Kimbrel. He struck out on 3 pitches to his longtime friend Kevin McCarthy.
“I was not allowed to swing so I don’t know if I can take full credit for taking that strikeout,” Mills said. “But yeah, it’s kind of a nice brag: when there was a DH, I still got an at-bat.”
In the offseason, Mills didn’t fully prepare to hit, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try and be as ready as he can when the season starts.
“I definitely didn’t do a whole lot of swinging in the offseason,” Mills said. “But at the end of the day, I’m getting paid to pitch. I think hitting is just a bonus. That does not mean I will not work at it and try to get better. We are in the lineup and we can help.”
Ross enjoys walk-off buzz
Ross and the Cubs can’t wait for fans to return to Wrigley Field. Tuesday afternoon, they got a good taste at what kind of buzz a small crowd can make. Rafael Ortega’s walk-off grand slam sent the crowd into a loud frenzy that Ross noticed.
“That was cool,” Ross said. “We were trying to recollect if I had ever had a spring training walk-off grand slam. I don’t think I have ever seen that. I was talking to all the front office and they couldn’t remember one either.
“I don’t know if that’s just something you don’t really remember, but that was cool for us and just the fans.”