Someone capable of mixing pitches and having success without a high-velocity fastball delivered a stellar start for the Cubs on Friday. Sound familiar?
No, it wasn't Kyle Hendricks' turn in the rotation – though he did throw an 81-pitch, complete game shutout against St. Louis back in May. Rather, it was Alec Mills who stymied the Cardinals offense this time around.
Mills was thrust into action in place of Cole Hamels, whose turn in the rotation was skipped due to left shoulder fatigue. Despite being pressed into action, the 27-year-old Mills delivered, tossing 4 2/3 shutout innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out six.
"He was outstanding. He gave us everything we needed," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the game, a 2-1 Cubs loss – their fourth-straight. "[He] pitched really that well, like we've been talking about the whole time.
"He really demonstrated what he's made out of."
Mills has been emerging as a quite a contributor for the Cubs as of late. He now holds a 0.84 ERA over his last four outings, which also includes two scoreless innings against the Reds on Tuesday.
Friday, he looked Hendricks-esque, making up for a lack of fastball velocity – he averaged 89.9 mph with his four-seamer – with a stellar slow curveball and sweeping slider. His curveball averaged 67.7 mph, even touching 65 mph at times.
Such fastball velocity might seem more hittable than something in the upper 90s. However, as opposing teams have seen time and time again with Hendricks, 89 looks a lot different when blended in with effective breaking pitches.
"I think every at-bat, I'm trying to be something different, cause I don't have the stuff to just say ‘Here you go, here's what it is,'" Mills said postgame. "If I can be something that keeps them off balance every at-bat, it's what I want to do."
Mills got four called strikes and four swinging strikes, respectively, with his curveball on Friday. None of those were for strike three, but when the Cardinals actually put Mills' curve in play, they went 0-for-4.
"It's one of those things where I feel like I can throw it for a strike at any point," he said postgame about the pitch. "It's something I can lean on when I need it, so it's nice."
Despite his personal success, Mills kept things in perspective after the game. Not only does Friday's loss drop the Cubs to five games back of the Cardinals in the NL Central, but also 1.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot. This is pending the outcome of Friday night's Brewers-Pirates, though.
"It's always nice to throw well, but at the end of the day, a win is all that matters at this point," he said. "Obviously a lot of guys are upset, but it's one of those things where it's definitely not over.
"I don't think there will be an ounce of quit in here. We're just going to come tomorrow ready to play and go for a win."