Mills returns to Jays in marathon aftermath
* LHP Brad Mlills, was designated for assignment after allowing five runs on three hits and hitting a batter in 2 1/3 innings Monday night in Seattle facing the Mariners. Mills was 1-1 with a 7.85 ERA in four games with Oakland and Toronto this year. At triple-A level Nashville and Buffalo, he was 5-2 mark with a 1.56 ERA in 17 games (15 starts) for Nashville and Buffalo. .... 2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in Minors … Canadians in college summer ball …. Canadians in College .... MLB Scouting Bureau camps
By Alexis Brudnicki
BUFFALO, NY – When Buffalo Bisons manager Gary Allenson learned that Brad Mills would be joining his squad last month, the skipper immediately thought back to the first time he had encountered the lefty starter.
The feeling attached to the memory was not nostalgia.
“It’s a little bit of a nightmare for me,” Allenson said. “I was wearing the road uniforms at that time … I was a coach with the [Baltimore] Orioles back in 2010. I was the Triple-A manager, and I went up when they fired the manager there and I coached third base [as the] interim third-base coach…
“We were in Toronto when they called him up from [triple-A] Las Vegas in 2010, and we only got two hits. He threw about seven shutout innings. I’m guessing to say that might be his best big-league start there.”
That particular outing was definitely among the best of the left-hander’s major league starts, but Mills believes he’s a much better pitcher now than he was then.
“I had some good starts numbers-wise, but I feel a lot more confident in what I’ve been doing the last couple years, both in 2013 and this year…” Mills said. “That’s a really big compliment coming from him, because the Orioles, I think I have three of my four major league wins against them or something. I’ve pitched well against them.
“But I’m a better pitcher now, I’ve gotten command more of my other pitches and feel more confident than I was back then. I expect myself to get outs.”
That was what the Toronto Blue Jays were expecting from Mills when they picked him up off the waiver wire as well, but by the time the 29-year-old made it to Rogers Centre after being designated for assignment by the Oakland Athletics, he hadn’t thrown in a game for almost three weeks.
His first – and only – outing for the team that originally drafted him in the fourth round seven years ago, showed some rust. Mills threw two innings in an attempt to provide long relief, but was forced out of the game after allowing eight runs on seven hits with a walk and three strikeouts.
“I knew I was the long guy,” he said. “They said they didn’t really have a role in the rotation for me but they liked me as a pitcher. They thought I was a better pitcher now than I was when they let me go in ’11, and they just knew they wanted me on the roster, [but] whatever that meant going forward they didn’t know.
“So I knew in the bullpen if the starter has a short outing that I was probably going to go in there. I wish I could have given more length, but it’s over so I’m eager to move forward.”
The scenario was less than ideal, and Mills is hoping for a chance to prove to the Blue Jays that he is the pitcher they've had faith in. He is happy to once again be reunited with his first organizational home – despite the way his return to the city of Toronto went – and looking to progress with the club.
“I was excited because it was the big leagues, obviously,” Mills said of the Blue Jays claiming him. “The business side of it is what it is, you don’t really have control of it, so I was glad a major league team wanted me.
“It was kind of weird feelings because I was drafted by them, I didn’t pitch the best up in the big leagues when I got a chance with them the first go-round, and I was eager to put that behind me as I moved forward in my career. So it’s still going to be a challenge if I ever get back up there, coming back to that place physically and feeling like I’m a better pitcher this time around, and performing.”
In Buffalo, Mills has been able to get back into his regular throwing routine, knowing where and when he fits into the Bisons rotation, and not spending large amounts of time away from the diamond, as he was forced to do both times he was designated this season.
“That’s huge for me,” the southpaw said. “I’m a big-time creature of habit and that’s why I feel like I’ve never really clicked in the bullpen role, because there’s so much unknown.
“I love knowing exactly every day I come into the ballpark what I have to do, so that fifth day when I’m on the mound I feel like I’ve prepared myself to the best of my ability. That’s comforting mentally for me and I’m [happy to be] getting back into that routine.”
Mills started this season with the Nashville Sounds, the Pacific Coast League affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, after spending last year between Japan and triple-A Round Rock. After posting a 1.56 ERA over 12 starts and 75 innings with 18 walks and 77 strikeouts with the Sounds, the Brewers traded the Arizona native to the Oakland Athletics in June.
He made three big-league starts for the A's before the team designated him for assignment, eventually landing him in Toronto en route to Buffalo. So far in three starts and 14 ½ innings for the Bisons, Mills is 1-0 with a 3.14 ERA. He has walked one batter and fanned 12.
“It’s been hard,” Mills said of the logistics for his family of four. “Last year they weren’t able to go to Japan because my wife was pregnant with our second so I actually came home when he was born and went back to Japan.
“This year we were in Nashville and then when I got sent over to Oakland I went there first and then they came up and joined me. Within four days of them being in Oakland was when they made the Jeff Samardzija trade and they took me off the roster, so we had to move back.
“We were in Arizona for a while, and then ever since I’ve come over to Toronto they’ve been chilling at home in Phoenix. I’ve just been hotel-ing it and stuff… It’s definitely harder with kids, or even when you’re married, to logistically figure all that stuff out. Whenever you get moved, you’ve got to be there the next day and your family definitely has to kind of wear it for you.”
Mills got to spend some extra time with his wife and two-year-old and 10-and-a-half-month-old sons when he was in baseball purgatory waiting out his designation. So it wasn’t all bad, though he had trouble staying ready for baseball.
“It was 10 days,” he said. “I learned this later, but you still get paid I guess. You’re still on the roster. So that was nice, but they had a week to decide whether they were going to trade me or put me on waivers. Basically I was still with the A's but not on any of their rosters so I just went home and threw bullpens at my old high school.
“It was a nice time with my family, but it definitely got me out of game shape. Then, after that seven-day period, they put me on the waiver wire and it was two or three days to clear or get picked up and Toronto picked me up at the very end of that time. So, all in all, it was 10 days from when they took me off the active roster in Oakland to when I showed up in Toronto.”
What was going through his mind during the waiting period?
“There’s not much you can do about it,” Mills said. “I’m a creature of habit, so I thought I want to keep throwing, but there’s no way to do that. Because of that you just kind of have to give in to it and [know] I’m doing everything possible. I was going to the gym and throwing as much as I could, but after that there was nothing else I could do to stay in game shape because there were no games.
“So they understand that, even when I was taken off the roster in Toronto they said, ‘Hey, tough spot, we knew you hadn’t thrown in three weeks in a game and we didn’t bring you up here with a one-game tryout to see if you’d stick, it’s just how things went.’ So I appreciate them saying that.”
When the Blue Jays designated Mills, he remained close by and didn’t have to wait as long for another move.
“I stayed in a hotel in Toronto for three days,” Mills said. “Again I wasn’t allowed to go to the field, so I just went to the hotel weight room and worked out and stuff but I couldn’t throw or anything. I figured if I ended up coming here [to Buffalo] I didn’t want to fly all the way home to Arizona just to accept my assignment and then come all the way back to Buffalo. That was a likely scenario.”
With the seemingly constant movement, Mills has had a lot of names to learn, people to meet, and players to work with, and the hardest part has been becoming a part of each team. Not to mention remembering where all of his belongings are.
“Not here in Buffalo as much but the other places, both Oakland and the big leagues with Toronto, getting into a new clubhouse,” Mills said. “You come into a team mid-season and they already have gelled together a little bit, chemistry-wise, as a team and it’s always hard to feel like you’re part of the team.
“Oakland was really, really cool as far as making me feel welcome and part of the team. There aren’t any big-name superstars or guys like that on the team and I felt like I was included, but it’s still hard to try to remember names and try to feel like you’re fitting in their system.
“That was hard, and then the logistical stuff, figuring out where you’re going to live. And I mean, my truck is still sitting in the Oakland A's stadium parking lot right now. When they call you to somewhere else, you’ve got to get on a plane and go and your life stays behind. Trying to wrap all those loose ends up has been hard.”
Returning to the Blue Jays organization was helpful for Mills’ latest transition, seeing a lot of familiar faces around the locker room.
“Tons,” he said. “It’s like half of them the Blue Jays have brought back, like Darin Mastroianni and Brett Wallace, and then a lot of them like Kyle Drabek were here the first time around. Even some of the younger guys like Kevin Pillar and Sean Nolin were in camp kind of below me the last time around with the Blue Jays.
“So that definitely weighed into my decision, whether to come here or not, the fact that I knew half the guys in the clubhouse, and the trainer [Voon Chong] and I go way back to Vegas. He was my trainer in Double-A in ’08 and in Triple-A in ’10 and ’11, so that stuff is easy. Sometimes that’s the hardest part is learning their weightlifting program, their arm strengthening program and I already know all that stuff here.”
It didn’t hurt that when Mills arrived to Buffalo that the Bisons had started to get on a pretty good roll and are still working their way up the International League standings in a push for playoffs.
“You always want to play to win,” Mills said. “I honestly didn’t know their situation in the standings when I signed but it’s always good to come in when we’re winning and feel like you want to finish strong here and hopefully make the post-season.
“That was a really fun atmosphere in Oakland in the big leagues and something I really haven’t had in pro ball ever, especially since college [at the University of Arizona]. That’s all you’re worried about in college is winning, and here it tends to be a little more [focused] on your personal career versus the team. It’s fun to hear the team trying to mount up a little August rally and limp in there.”
And no matter what else is happening, what city he’s in or what team he’s with, Mills is right at home as long as he’s on the mound.
“That’s my favourite place of all time,” he said. “The other part of baseball is the business side, the behind-the-scenes stuff can get in the way. But on the mound, on the field, is where you should love to be…So when I get on the mound, I [think], 'this is the place I want to be,' and I can forget about all the other stuff going on while I’m competing. That’s still what I live for and work for.”
-- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis