07/28/10 11:45 PM ET
One-and-done Mills dominates spot start
Rookie tosses seven scoreless to complete sweep vs. O's
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
On Wednesday night at Rogers Centre, Mills had his extreme over-the-top style working well in a seven-inning gem against the Orioles. Baltimore's hitters looked helpless and flustered, and Mills took advantage, guiding the Blue Jays to a 5-0 victory in his season debut.
"I'll take it," Mills said with a smile. "It felt good."
Mills' strong showing helped the Blue Jays improve to 12-0 this season against the Orioles, marking the first time in team history that Toronto has opened a campaign with that many consecutive wins against a team. One more win over Baltimore, and Toronto would equal its longest winning streak against one team.
Following the game, Mills was called into the office of manager Cito Gaston. The 25-year-old pitcher was told that -- after this one brilliant outing -- he was being optioned back to Triple-A Las Vegas. The news did not come as a shock, though. Mills understood the situation going in.
Due to a doubleheader in Detroit on Sunday, the Blue Jays' rotation was in need of an extra arm for the start against the Orioles. Mills got the nod and now he'll head back to the farm, clearing room for outfielder Travis Snider to make his return to Toronto after a stay with Double-A New Hampshire.
Mills can at least board his flight with his first Major League win under his belt.
"It's great to come up here and prove to myself that I belong here," Mills said. "I can pitch here and get outs here. Regardless of if I was staying or going down, I know I can pitch here."
Mills could be back later this year, too. Toronto (53-49) is considering using a six-man rotation in September to help ease the workload of its young starting staff. As things currently stand, lefty Marc Rzepczynski and Mills -- given this one-start audition -- are the top candidates to join the rotation for the final month.
"As I told him," Gaston said, "if we need a starter somewhere down the line, we know where to go get one."
At Triple-A this season, Mills has posted a 7-4 record with a 4.13 ERA. The young lefty had a two-start stint with the Blue Jays last season, but he gave up 12 runs on 14 hits over just 7 2/3 innings in a pair of outings against the Phillies. One included a humiliating 500-level, first-inning homer from Philadelphia's Jayson Werth.
Needless to say, things went much better this time around against the Orioles (31-70).
"The game was just kind of fast last year," Mills said. "I really worked today on trying to slow it down. I told myself, 'It's the same down in Triple-A as it is here. If I throw strikes, I can get outs.' That was the biggest thing, trying to keep it slow."
In keeping things slow, Mills worked fast.
The lefty needed just 23 pitches to cruise through the first three innings, and he ran past 23 hitters without allowing a hit between the first and seventh frames. The only two hits Mills allowed were singles -- one to Brian Roberts in the first inning and another to Jake Fox in the seventh.
Mills issued four walks and hit Miguel Tejada with a pitch, but the left-hander limited the damage at every turn. Mills finished with four strikeouts in a 92-pitch effort, which was aided by the fact that the Orioles came after him out of the gates with an aggressive approach, swinging early in counts.
It was a strategy that played right into Mills' hand.
"If you establish that you're throwing strikes, you get them into swing mode," Mills said. "They got into swing mode really quick, so you don't have to throw a ton of pitches and you don't have to throw perfect pitches. If they're swinging, they get themselves out a lot.
"I got away with some pitches tonight and they got themselves out a lot."
The Jays provided Mills with all the support he required in the second inning, when a fielding error by Orioles left fielder Corey Patterson allowed Vernon Wells to score from first base on an Adam Lind single. That lone unearned run was all Baltimore righty Jeremy Guthrie (3-11) surrendered over seven innings.
In the eighth, Lind added an RBI single and Lyle Overbay launched a three-run home run off Orioles reliever Will Ohman to push the Blue Jays to a 5-0 advantage. It was a late outburst that essentially secured the win for Mills.
"That was good," Gaston said with a smile. "That helps with slowing your heart down a little bit."
And so Mills heads back to Las Vegas with the lineup card from Wednesday's game and the baseball used to retire the final out. Mills' temporary Toronto teammates were thrilled that the young pitcher took advantage of the opportunity.
"That was great," Overbay said. "He was making a lot of good hitters look foolish up there. Good for him. He got his first win."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.