Mills delivers strong performance, Cubs end 11-game skid
Maybe there's hope for the Cubs' pitching rotation after all.
Alec Mills tossed 5 scoreless innings against Philadelphia on Wednesday night as the Cubs finally snapped an 11-game losing streak by defeating Philadelphia 8-3. Mills now has a 3.77 ERA in the six games he's started this season.
"He's just solid," teammate Anthony Rizzo said. "Every time he takes the mound, you know he's going to pound the strike zone. Doesn't back down or back away. We put up 10 (runs) yesterday and got blown out."
Mills gave up a 3-run homer to Andrew McCutchen in the sixth, so it didn't qualify as a quality start, but it was still what the Cubs sorely needed.
Kris Bryant left the game in the fourth inning with right-hamstring tightness, and Javy Baez was a late scratch due to a sprained right thumb. Manager David Ross called both players day-to-day.
Without two of their most productive hitters, the Cubs' offense exploded with contact in the early innings against Phillies starter Zack Wheeler, who hadn't given up any runs in four of his last five starts. Cubs hitters collected 6 singles and a Rizzo stand-up triple while taking a 5-0 lead after two innings.
They were able to add some insurance in the sixth when Joc Pederson delivered an RBI single and Patrick Wisdom added 2-run double, both with two outs. Pederson, Rizzo and Nico Hoerner finished with 2 hits each.
Combined with the three low-scoring, 1-run losses in Cincinnati last weekend, Cubs starting pitching has been decent in the last week or so, outside of two outings by Jake Arrieta that lasted less than 2 innings.
Whether Arrieta can turn things around will remain a topic of conversation. After Tuesday's game, Arrieta was insistent that he can be successful this season and vowed to keep working until it happens. He was placed on the injured list Wednesday with right-hamstring tightness.
Of course, Arrieta won the Cy Young Award in 2015 and was a key piece of the rotation for the World Series-winning Cubs. When it comes to confidence on the mound, Ross said he's glad Arrieta still has it.
"Listen, I've been around a lot of great players," Ross said. "A former teammate of mine talked about being a starter. You're out there on the bump and there's nine guys in the lineup, their job is to kick your butt. So you better have a lot of confidence because you're taking on a whole team pretty much every time you grab the baseball.
"I go back to Jake, he put us on his shoulders in that Pittsburgh (2015) wild-card game. The stuff he was saying to the fans there, that gave us, gave me confidence that I knew I had a guy going out on the mound that had that mentality and belief in himself like that."
Arrieta tossed a complete-game 5-hit shutout that night in Pittsburgh, and Ross declined to elaborate on what Arrieta said to the fans.
"You've got to go back and look all that up. It was some good stuff," Ross said with a laugh. "I want my kids to have that mentality. I want my team, our coaches, I want everybody to have that mentality that we're the greatest every time we step on that field, whether the other team believes it, whether the fans believe it, your family believes it. Mental confidence, it's a big thing."
Trevor Williams, back from appendicitis, is a candidate to fill Arrieta's spot in the rotation, as is Cory Abbott, who was called up from Iowa.
Another possibility is to experiment with turning Keegan Thompson or Justin Steele into starters. The two rookies have been valuable in the bullpen but were starters in the minors. Steele threw 2⅔ innings for Iowa on his rehab assignment Wednesday.
"I think there's a lot of things that could change if we don't start winning," Ross said.
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