CHICAGO — Alec Mills celebrated his no-hitter Sunday night with Pequod’s pizza with his wife, Paige, and son, Carter, before starting to return more than 320 congratulatory messages.
Mills and his Chicago Cubs teammates, though, have little time to bask in their achievements.
“The postseason is getting closer than we think,” Mills said in a conference call Tuesday before the Cubs opened a two-game series with the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field. “At the same time, we’ve still got to get in and we’ve still got to get into a good spot.”
With the new postseason format revealed Tuesday, the Cubs have plenty to consider as they try to secure the National League Central title and home-field advantage in the wild-card round.
There will be no days off during the best-of-five NL Division Series and best-of-seven NL Championship Series. So if the Cubs advance past the best-of-three wild-card series, starting pitching depth would be a major consideration — especially if the NLDS lasts five games.
“No days off is going to test everyone’s health,” manager David Ross said.
One option has been all but eliminated. Tyler Chatwood, who hasn’t pitched since Aug. 30, experienced a setback in his return from a right forearm strain and has been shut down.
“(The elbow) didn’t feel good,” Ross said. “I’m comfortable making that statement. I don’t want to make a statement that his season is over. But there’s a lot of caution and the health of the player, his future.”
Chatwood, who can become a free agent after this season, made five starts.
Jose Quintana, whose season debut was delayed because of a cut nerve in his left thumb, is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Wednesday with the anticipation he can pitch a simulated game by the end of the week.
Quintana made two relief appearances before he was placed on the injured list Aug. 31 because of left lat inflammation.
But even if Quintana is cleared to rejoin the Cubs, they’ll likely use him in a relief role similar to what he filled before his latest injury.
Quintana threw three innings of one-run ball while striking out six against the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 30.
“We’re running on the back end of the season and time,” said Ross, whose team led the NL Central by four games with 12 remaining entering Tuesday. “Games are going to matter, then performance, and postseason thoughts are starting to get in there.”
Ross didn’t want to assume the Cubs will win the division, but he has started to test selected members of his bullpen, such as Duane Underwood Jr. and Dan Winkler, in high-leverage situations more frequently.
The rotation, which received a much-needed boost from Jon Lester and Mills after earlier struggles, has lessened the urgency for Chatwood’s return.
A contribution from Quintana would lift the Cubs’ hopes should they advance to the NLDS. Many teams are opting for their bullpens sooner, and Quintana’s ability to pitch multiple innings and his success against left-handed hitters can force an opponent to turn its lineup around.
Newcomer Andrew Chafin will throw a simulated game Wednesday and could join the roster shortly after being sidelined because of a left finger sprain.
Chafin’s arrival would add experience to the left side of the bullpen, currently composed of Kyle Ryan and Josh Osich.
Ross acknowledged the two days off this week will allow for rest before the stretch drive. The Cubs have no days off after Thursday.
Mills was able to let the magnitude of his no-hitter sink in Monday while reading congratulatory messages from supporters that included Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts.
“It’s starting to settle in a little bit,” said Mills, who is 5-3 with a 3.93 ERA in nine starts. “My confidence level is obviously pretty good right now, but at the same time, you’re only as good as the next time you pitch. I need to go out there and kind of leapfrog off there and just keep pitching like I know how.”
The honeymoon is over, meanwhile, for some of the Cubs’ top hitters who have struggled in their spots in the order. Kris Bryant returned to the second spot Tuesday after resting his sore left wrist Sunday, but Javier Baez batted sixth for the first time this season.
Ross said he discussed the possibility with Baez last Thursday. The Cubs have remained in first place despite the struggles of Anthony Rizzo (.205), Baez (.203) and Bryant (.200).
“I may start moving some things around a little bit more, trying to find a little bit more continuity,” Ross said. “I definitely went with the trust factor early on most of the season and let these guys feed off each other’s at-bats and how the lineup works.
“But now we’re starting to get a clear picture of who’s having the good at-bats and who’s having a good season, who’s coming along. You’ve still got to trust in those guys. The way the lineup shakes out, it’s a really neat lineup when Javy Baez is hitting sixth. He could very easily be back in the 3 (or) 4 hole at some point.”
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