It would be difficult not to call it a bargain no matter how it panned out. In desperate need of a starting pitcher to fill the void that Drew Pomeranz left at the No. 5 spot in the rotation, the Oakland A’s bought Brad Mills from the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this week for a measly one dollar. A display of just how much the dollar is still worth, Mills made his first start in not just an A’s uniform, but a big league uniform this year on Friday when Oakland hosted the second of a 4-game series against the Red Sox.
For the southpaw who possesses a 7.76 ERA in 53 innings in the big leagues, facing a Red Sox lineup appeared to be no tall task early on and his command was there to prove it. Jumping out to a pitcher's count in every at-bat and topping out his fastball at 89 mph, Mills finished the top half of the first inning with three strikeouts (two looking, one swinging) and one walk to his credit. An example of the encouraging start he was off to, Mills caught David Ortiz looking at a slow curve for a strike three call to end the inning.
If the first inning wrote the entire script it would have displayed that some foresight existed when looking at his 1.56 ERA and 77/18 K/BB ratio in 75 innings while with the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate this season. For one buck he was a steal – for one inning, however.
Things then began to unravel in the second and Mills’ pitch count continued to soar at a rate that was destined to give the bullpen a full workload. Giving up walks in each of the next three innings, Mills surrendered two runs in the second and also a run in the third after giving up a leadoff walk to Xander Bogaerts and then seeing him trot home on an Ortiz RBI single.
His night ended after the fourth inning, but not after allowing two Red Sox base runners to reach via a walk and a hit by pitch. In total, Mills threw 94 pitches in four innings of work that included four strikeouts, four walks, and four hits.Not terrible numbers by any stretch, yet when forcing the bullpen to use four arms to seal a 4-3 Oakland A’s victory its hard to think Bob Melvin is confident with performances like those. Let’s also remember at the same time that Mills only arrived for a workout in Oakland Thursday. It’s not as if he’s had a couple days to prepare for this outing, let alone it being his first big league appearance since July of 2012.
So how should we rate this pitching performance? Well, 53 strikes to 94 pitches is not model type efficiency in terms of command and the walks are something that cannot occur on a consistent basis. It's probably in terms of average to slightly below average if we're thinking about the large picture and his 4.50 ERA for the game.
It’s the perfect time of year to be exploring options around the league and around ones own system, so the Mills Project could most likely be scratched by the next time his spot on the rotation is set for a start. Before Mills was even named Friday's starter a list of internal candidates for the job included Dan Straily, Josh Lindblom and Arnold Leon. All three of those options are currently in AAA Sacramento and it wouldn’t be surprising to see someone like Straily (currently holding a 3.55 ERA in seven starts with Sacramento this season) getting a test-run with the club.
Regardless, when it comes to pitching as a whole, it has to feel like the A’s have figured out every way to win this season. Using a committee of arms throughout the nine innings, the A’s left the Red Sox scoreless for the final six innings of the game and hashed out a one-run victory with a starting pitcher who just arrived on the west coast Thursday.
On the other hand, it should be interesting to see what management does with the situation its involved in now. Mills has by far the best minor league numbers this season among the guys he is compared with in Sacramento. Yet his Major League pedigree, along with his performance Friday, is enough cause to continue exploring options.