Cubs’ Alec Mills not scheduled to return for start vs. Rockies; Saturday pitcher TBD

Cubs reliever Michael Rucker threw 2 1⁄3 innings against the Pirates on Wednesday to keep the bullpen fresh.

SHARE Cubs’ Alec Mills not scheduled to return for start vs. Rockies; Saturday pitcher TBD
Cubs pitcher Alec Mills started the season on the 10-day IL with a low back strain.

Cubs pitcher Alec Mills started the season on the 10-day IL with a low back strain. File photo.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

PITTSBURGH — Eight days. That’s how long it had been since Cubs reliever Michael Rucker had faced batters. But in the Cubs’ 6-2 loss to the Pirates on Wednesday, he threw 2⅓ scoreless innings.

“It’s also something that I’ve done in Triple-A, had kind of a long timebetween outings, so it’s not something that I’m unfamiliar with,” Rucker said. “Leaning on that experience and just trying to stay ready is what helped me be able to stay fresh and in sync and in a groove for today.”

The bullpen’s performance — Rucker, Rowan Wick and Scott Effross combined to throw 4⅓ scoreless innings — couldn’t salvage the game, but Rucker’s multi-inning outing helped keep the rest of the bullpen fresh. And the Cubs likely will need extra arms in Colorado.

“Those are all really encouraging signs, to see young guys that can have long layoffs not make excuses, step on the mound, get big outs,” acting manager Andy Green said. “And the next time, he’ll find himself in probably a bigger situation because he does things like that.”

In Colorado, the Cubs are facing more than just hitter-friendly elevation. They have a start to fill Saturday.

Right-hander Alec Mills (lower back strain) will not start against the Rockies, manager David Ross announced Wednesday. Mills, who began the season on the 10-day injured list, threw 77 pitches Sunday and a bullpen session Tuesday, but he has been “under the weather,” Ross said. The Cubs have taken a cautious approach with Mills’ recovery since his back tightness cropped up late in spring training.

As for Saturday’s starter, “we’re still working though who that’ll be,” Ross said.

Ross sidelined

On Wednesday morning, Green walked through the clubhouse in an Obvious Shirts T-shirt that displayed his title: “BENCH COACH.”But by the second inning, he was serving as manager for a second consecutive game.

“[Ross] was under the weather from the get-go today, from the time he woke up until right about now,” Green said. “So hopefully he feels a lot better tomorrow. He’s just battling what feels like a little flu bug to him right now.”

On Tuesday, Ross served an automatic one-game suspension after MLB determined pitcher Keegan Thompson intentionally hit Brewers outfielder Andrew McCutchen over the weekend. Thompson is appealing his three-game suspension.

Contreras cannon

Catcher Willson Contreras remained stoic when asked about his first home run of the season — “It doesn’t matter right now; we just lost’’ — but he did crack a smile when his fourth-inning back-pick came up.

The play ended the inning as Contreras fired down to second base to catch Pirates designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach off the bag. Contreras and Vogelbach played together when they were coming up through the Cubs’ farm system.

“I told him the next at bat, ‘You should know better. That was a huge lead,’ ’’ Contreras said. “We all smiled, but he should be mad about it.”

ON DECK

CUBS AT ROCKIES

Thursday: Justin Steele (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Kyle Freeland (0-1, 12.27), 7:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

Friday: Marcus Stroman (0-0, 1.80) vs. German Marquez (0-0, 1.29), 7:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

Saturday: TBD vs. Antonio Senzatela (0-0, 2.70), 7:10 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

Sunday: Drew Smyly (1-0, 0.00) vs. Austin Gomber (0-0, 5.79), 2:10 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.

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