Mitre started nine games a season ago, going 2-4 with a 6.51 ERA as the fifth starter before Prior returned from an Achilles' injury June 4. Although his numbers were not overly impressive, Mitre kept the Cubs in a majority of the games he started.
"It was a confidence boost and just an experience," Mitre said. "It makes you grow up. You learn how to slow things down and take control. It helped me prepare for my offseason, and it helped me get ready for this season."
After getting a taste of the big leagues last year, Mitre was quickly humbled when he returned to Des Moines for three months. The right-hander excelled as a member of the Iowa Cubs' rotation by posting a 6-4 record and a 2.98 ERA in 18 starts.
While pitching in Triple-A, the Chicago Cubs' starting pitchers continued to be plagued by injuries. The Cubs' brass used veteran Glendon Rusch as opposed to shuffling Mitre back and forth between Des Moines and the Windy City. In September, Mitre returned to Chicago and was only used out of the bullpen, where he struggled. He feels he has a better grasp on his command this year.
"Since the spring started, I have been throwing quite a bit," said Mitre. "My pitch count is building up. Either way, I can start or come out of the bullpen."
With two weeks to go before opening day, the focus of Spring Training will continue to center around the absence of Prior and Wood from the pitching mound. For Mitre to earn the fifth starter role, a couple of minor changes need to be made to his approach.
"I still need to work on a few mechanical adjustments like my release point," he said.
Starting is the obvious preference, but a spot on the opening day roster for the second straight season would be quite an accomplishment for Mitre. With Prior and Wood sidelined for the start of the season, the Cubs' rotation will likely feature Greg Maddux, Carlos Zambrano, Rusch, Ryan Dempster and a mystery fifth starter. If Mitre has a productive spring, he could easily fill that void until either Prior or Wood returns. Until Sunday's game against San Diego, when he gave up four runs in four innings, Mitre had posted a 2.25 ERA in eight innings of work.
The Cubs' farm system has been heralded as one of the best in baseball over the past few seasons, so management would be pleased if Mitre made a permanent stay along the shores of Lake Michigan.
"You definitely think about those types of things," Mitre said. "You have to show up ready and go do your thing. It's too soon to talk about it. I don't know what's going to happen." Scott Sabin is the contributing editor of Inside The Ivy. Contact Scott at email@example.com.