Cubs Notes: Mills, Stroman, Smyly, Suzuki

Alec Mills threw only seven pitches in today’s start against the Red Sox before being forced out of the game due to lower-back pain. More will be known once Mills undergoes testing, but it would seemingly appear as though the right-hander’s bad back could again be forcing him to the injured list.

Mills missed a little over three weeks of the 2021 season with a lower back strain, and a similar injury also put him on the IL to begin the 2022 campaign. Unfortunately for Mills, he then suffered a quad injury while rehabbing this season, which delayed this season debut until June 7. This missed time has clearly had an adverse effect on Mills’ pitching, as he has struggled to a 9.68 ERA over 17 2 /3 innings since coming off the IL. Today’s abbreviated outing was only the second time in seven appearances that Mills hadn’t allowed multiple earned runs.

It was also only Mills’ second start in those seven games, as Chicago had primarily been using him as a reliever until injuries forced Mills back into rotation duty. Should Mills be headed to the IL again, the Cubs will be in need of a starter in the short term, though could help be on the way soon.

Marcus Stroman is set to make a rehab start on Sunday for Triple-A Iowa, as the righty looks to be on the verge of returning from a stint on the 15-day IL. Shoulder season inflammation sidelined Stroman back on June 10, and he also missed around two weeks earlier this due to a placement on the COVID-related IL.

The stop-and-start nature of his season has contributed to Stroman’s disappointing 5.32 ERA. While his 3.71 SIERA is more palatable, Stroman’s strikeout rate is barely above the league average and he has some of the worst hard-contact numbers of any pitcher in baseball. It could be that this IL visit serves as a reset on his season, as Stroman told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian that he feels he more “proper build-up” after two bullpen sessions and a live BP session. The right-hander hopes that he’ll only need the one rehab start before returning to the Cubs, which would line Stroman up for a start in Chicago’s upcoming series against the Dodgers.

Drew Smyly is also set to begin a minor league rehab assignment on Monday, following a similar ramp-up pattern of two bullpens and a live BP session. Smyly has missed a little over a month due to an oblique strain. The veteran lefty’s first season in Wrigleyville has seen him post a 3.80 ERA/4.09 SIERA over 42 2/3 innings, with a strong 5.6% walk rate, but also a career-low 18.9% strikeout rate. That latter figure could give rival teams some pause in considering Smyly as a deadline pickup, though if he is able to return quickly and pitch well in July, Smyly figures to get some attention by August 2.

On the position-player side, manager David Ross told Bastian and other reporters that Seiya Suzuki should be activated from the IL as early as Monday. Suzuki has a third minor league rehab game scheduled for today, which could be the final step in his recovery from a sprained left ring finger. The outfielder has now missed over five weeks of action, interrupting his first MLB season. Suzuki had gotten off to a red-hot start in the first few weeks of play, but came down to earth in the 23 games prior to his injury — Suzuki has hit only .183 / .253 / .293 in his last 91 plate appearances .

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