Alec Mills still has a hard time wrapping his mind around the reality that he threw a no-hitter last season. There is plenty of video evidence, but the Cubs pitcher has not taken the time to watch a replay of his masterpiece in Milwaukee.
"I haven't rewatched it, no. I haven't," Mills said with a smile during a Zoom session with reporters on Thursday afternoon. "Maybe when I retire, that may be something I do."
No, the no-hitter has not changed the softspoken Mills. And his place in baseball and Cubs history has also not changed his place in the team's rotation situation. As camp opens in Arizona for the North Siders, Mills is competing for a spot in the starting staff, along with Adbert Alzolay.
Mills and Alzolay look like the leading contenders for the fifth spot.
"There will be a number of guys in the back end of that rotation that give us big innings," Cubs manager David Ross said. "And those two will be a big part of that."
What Ross means, in part, is that the pitchers who open the season behind Hendricks, Arrieta and Davies may not be locked into starter roles exactly. Coming off a 60-game season, the Cubs will need to manage the group's innings, meaning there could be trips to the bullpen (or to the Minors) in the name of flexibility.
Mills said the pitchers understand that will be the case.
"It's going to take a whole lot more than five starters to get through this season," Mills said. "To jump from 60 to 162 [games] is a lot of innings to jump. It's just something that we're going to have to kind of tackle as it happens."
Mills, who posted a 4.48 ERA in 11 starts last season -- highlighted by his Sept. 13 no-hitter against the Brewers -- is out of Minor League options. The 25-year-old Alzolay (2.95 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 13 walks in 21 1/3 innings in 2020) could have one option year remaining. The Cubs are awaiting clarity on that front. Either way, Mills would be the likelier candidate for a swingman role.
"One great thing about Alec is he's really [willing] to do whatever to help the team," Ross said. "I've talked to him multiple times. And he'll pitch big innings for us -- in maybe a bullpen role, maybe a starter role. Who knows? We don't know that yet."
"Work's a guy I've got a lot of history with," Ross said. "He's a guy that's going to pitch big innings for us. I see him fitting in. He's a true four-seam ride, breaking ball guy, which is really big in the game right now. He's a guy that is a really good competitor, and a guy that's a great teammate, fun to be around."
• Ross said it will be important for players to maintain a big-picture view this season, especially when it comes to transactions between the Major and Minor Leagues. Flexibility will be critical as teams navigate through 162 games and the COVID-19 challenges.
"It's going to be an organizational-wide effort here," Ross said. "And I think these guys know that. I've communicated that to them. It's all hands on deck and I think pitching depth, especially, is going to be extremely important, not just to us, but around the league."
• Ross said one goal for this spring is to stretch out as many pitchers as possible. Said the manager: "We've got to build up a lot of guys. We've got to get a lot of guys ready to pitch multiple innings, and then we'll use them accordingly in how their role fits in."
"It's still crazy, you know? It was obviously a special day and something I'll never forget. But I'm not sure if it still has completely hit me yet. I mean, I realize what I have done, but really the [gravity] of the situation, it's crazy." -- Mills, on his no-hitter