Happy Birthday Brad Mills

brad-millsLeft-hander Brad Mills gave himself an early birthday present on Wednesday afternoon by putting forth a solid showing against the U.S. team that will compete in the 2009 World Baseball Classic starting Saturday.

Mills, 24, allowed just one run and one hit over three innings of work against an all-star lineup of Americans that included Jimmy Rollins, Chipper Jones, David Wright, Adam Dunn and Ryan Braun. In fact, as The Star’s Morgan Campbell pointed out in his article today, Mills’ strikeout of Braun gave him six outs in a row to start the contest – one in which the Blue Jays ended up winning 6-5.

What jumps out to me in both Campbell’s and Jordan Bastian’s pieces about Mills is just how composed the young man has remained in camp thus far – despite the fact that he may be competing for one of the rotation spots behind ace Roy Halladay and Jessie Litsch.

“I try to simplify it as much as I can,” said Mills following Wednesday’s win. “I’m a left-handed strike-thrower. That’s all there is to it and that’s all I think about when I’m out there, no matter who (I’m) facing.”

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the lefty possesses such a mature mental approach to the game despite the fact that he has never pitched above Double-A. After all, the 24-year-old holds a degree in civil engineering, which he obtained from the University of Arizona. In fact, he turned down the Jays’ original offer after being drafted in the 22nd round in 2006 so that he could finish his degree.

In 2007, the Blue Jays selected him again – this time in the 4th round – and he was sent to Class-A Auburn, where he went 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in just six games (18.0 IP). Last year the left-hander split time between Class-A Lansing, Class-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire, combining to go 13-5 with a 1.95 ERA in 27 starts. He also posted an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio (159/52) during that span.

Mills is calm and focused on the mound, there’s no questioning that. He credits Andy Lopez, his coach in college.

“In college, my coach was big on the saying, ‘Don’t let the game get big,’” Mills told Bastian in an MLB.com interview. “That includes everything even off the field. If you start thinking about rotation spots, or this or that, the game’s gotten big, and that’s stuff you can’t control.

“If I just focus on working as hard as I can between starts and throwing strikes when I’m on the bump, then that’s all I can really do.”

So far it seems to be working. He’s already impressed manager Cito Gaston.

“He’s a tough kid (and) he has the right makeup for it,” said Gaston. “He doesn’t rattle out there at all.”

“I’ve seen him throw on the side. I just like his stuff. Stuff is important, but makeup is really important.”

While the jump from a short stint at Double-A in 2008 to the majors in 2009 seems unlikely, the Jays aren’t ruling it out. One thing’s for sure – Mills has thrown his name into the mix for the remaining rotation spots.

Check out a 2008 interview of Mills by the folks at Batter’s Box Interactive Magazine …

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