Mills delivers masterful performance in Cubs' 8-5 win
After a brutal performance by the bullpen on Monday night, the Cubs got one thing they badly needed on Tuesday in Cincinnati -- another quality start.
Alec Mills was solid in his first start of the season, going 6 innings and allowing just 2 hits. Mills is expected to fill in as the fifth starter until Jose Quintana recovers from a sliced thumb.
The Cubs got 2 home runs from Javy Baez and beat the Reds 8-5 to improve to 4-1 on the season. The third game of the series today will feature a good pitching matchup, with Kyle Hendricks taking on Sonny Gray.
"That's a bullpen-saver right there," Cubs manager David Ross said via Zoom call. "He (Mills) pitched his tail off and that's a nice outing, especially for a guy not getting to face other competition in short camp. Really big performance there. The environment changes and he just continues to execute pitches."
Mills made just two mistakes, to consecutive batters in the fourth inning.
He gave up a two-out walk to Jesse Winker, then former Cubs outfielder Nick Castellanos followed with a 2-run homer, which tied the score at 2-2. Castellanos got the other hit off Mills, a double.
Mills had 3 strikeouts, but recorded 10 ground ball outs in 22 batters faced.
"I think pitching to contact is how I'm going to live," he said. "I'm not going to strike a lot of people out.
Just a lot of weak ground balls and weak fly balls is how I'm going to have success.
"I think every time I go out I just want to pitch deep into a ball game. Today for me, getting six innings is huge. That's the first time I pitched to another team in a long time. So there were a few nerves early, but I'll take it."
This was the fourth quality start for the Cubs in five games. On Monday, though, the bullpen nearly squandered Jonn Lester's 5 hitless innings, letting an 8-1 lead dwindle to 8-7 before Jeremy Jeffress finally finished it off.
The 14 runs given up by Cubs starters in the first five games is the fewest for the team since at least 1901.
"I think all of us put in the work to be good," Mills said. "So obviously seeing the success is always a good thing. I think it's something that we just go out there and do our jogb and pass it on to the next guy. I think that's the point of the rotation and we'll do that moving forward."
The bullpen wasn't flawless on Tuesday, either. Casey Sadler got through the seventh inning, then gave up a leadoff home run to catcher Curt Casali that made it 6-3. Kyle Ryan finished the eighth, before Ryan Tepera gave up a 2-run homer to Freddy Galvis in the ninth.
Baez, who started the night 3-for-17 at the plate, was the offensive star, with 2 home runs, a double and 3 RBI. David Bote also delivered his first home run of the season in the eighth.
Northbrook native Jason Kipnis stepped into the designated hitter spot and got the Cubs on the board in the third inning. He hit a relatively routine fly ball, but Reds center fielder Shogo Akiyama lost the ball in the sun and never moved, while the ball dropped in for a triple. Kipnis then scored on Nico Hoerner's single.
Kipnis got an RBI in the fourth inning when his single drove home Jason Heyward. In the fifth, after Baez doubled, Kyle Schwarber's RBI single put the Cubs ahead for good. They scored solo runs in six straight innings.
Former Cubs pitcher Pedro Strop came in to face his former teammates one batter into the sixth inning. He wasn't charged with a run, since there was already a runner on first. Strop faced three batters, walking Bote, getting a ground out from Kipnis, then Hoerner's sacrfice fly scored Heyward to make it 4-2.