Mills joins The Show, debuts with 1-2-3 frame

May 2nd, 2021

SEATTLE -- When learned at 2:30 p.m. PT that he was being recalled from the alternate training site, his parents in Spokane, Wash., had less than four hours to scramble across Washington state and be at T-Mobile Park for his MLB debut, one that has been a long time coming for the 2017 Draft pick and former Gonzaga Bulldog.

Yet with the clock ticking, the Mills family somehow, someway managed to catch a flight to Seattle and watch him toss a 1-2-3 eighth inning in the Mariners’ 10-5 loss to the Angels.

Mills was riding the emotional high of the moment, but also the adrenaline of pitching in his home state against an opposing team in a live game for the first time since Aug. 31, 2019, for Double-A Arkansas. Because he was not invited to the alternate training site last year and the Minors season was canceled, Mills essentially sat out all of 2020.

The call revealing the club’s plans for him last year from Mariners director of player development Andy McKay was, in Mills’ words, a turning point in his baseball career and life off the field.

“I truly believe it was the best thing for me,” Mills said. “It really pushed me to find different avenues in my game that I needed to improve, whether that was the weight room, arm care in the training room, and then mental game. And I just know that I'm an incredibly different pitcher now than I was then.”

Besides more motivation, what else changed?

Mills joined the club at its fall developmental league in Arizona and made an impression by flashing an increase of 4 mph on his fastball, up to 97 mph with movement. He topped out at 95 mph on Saturday and was working his two-pitch combo nicely.

“I know that the stuff that I provide -- sinker-slider -- and it's hard ... any team would like that,” Mills said. “And I know that I’ve got to believe in that for the rest of my career.

“And a lot of it is just belief in myself on the mental side of the game, being able to come out and be me consistently. And it took a lot of conversation with coaches, mental strength coaches, strength coaches, just to get me on the right track. Really, just to trust in myself and believe in it.”

More on his backstory: Mills was a third-round Draft pick by Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto in 2017, signing for $125,000 -- more than $45,000 under slot value -- then he went on to post impressive strikeout numbers in his first pro season and jumped all the way to Double-A. He regressed some in ’19, but he was able to get back on track and finished his year in Team USA’s bullpen during Olympic qualifying that fall.

According to MLB Pipeline scouting reports, Mills’ low three-quarter arm slot has been described as funky. His fastball-slider combination missed bats and generated groundouts in the Minors. Like all of their pitchers, the Mariners have said that they want him to remain in “attack” mode in 2021. Overall, the club loves his makeup.

And he’ll be tasked with keeping the line moving for a bullpen that has been one of the Majors’ best after the first month of the regular season.

In a corresponding roster move, catcher Jacob Nottingham was designated for assignment. Nottingham was only on the 26-man roster for one day, Friday, to account for Evan White being placed on the bereavement list. But it’s clear now that the Mariners need pitching given the dearth of their starting depth.