John Mozeliak admits the offseason signing of free agent pitcher Miles Mikolas may not have been the most conventional move to supplement the Cardinals’ rotation needs.
Mikolas is most recently of the Yomiuri Giants in the Japanese Nippon Professional League and hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2014, when he was a member of the Texas Rangers.
But, Mikolas now fits into somewhere in the Cardinals’ rotation behind ace Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha. The two-year, $15 million contract he signed in December is insurance against another down year by Adam Wainwright and the chance that either Luke Weaver or Jack Flaherty isn’t quite ready to make an everyday leap to the big leagues.
“Adding somebody like Miles Mikolas might be a little curious to some of you who don’t do what we do for a living,” Mozeliak said, “but we think what he brings to the table — especially when you look at the depth of starting pitching we have coming — signing him for two years makes a lot of sense.”
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St. Louis fans and media got their first look at Mikolas, 29, at the Cardinals’ annual Winter Warm-Up at the Hyatt Regency at the Arch downtown Saturday. But Mikolas arrived with friends on the ballclub and a familiarity with the organization.
He was roommates with Cardinals’ third baseman Jedd Gyorko when both were in the Pirates’ minor league organization and was a teammates with reliever Tyler Lyons in San Diego with the Padres. His mother also lived in St. Louis before moving to Jupiter, Florida, where she raised her son near Roger Dean Stadium and the Cardinals’ spring training complex.
The Cardinals were not the only team to court his return from Japan, but they were his choice.
“I was lucky enough and fortunate enough that one of the teams I really wanted to play for also wanted me,” he said.
Mikolas, who was taken by the Padres in the seventh round of the 2009 MLB draft, was released by the Rangers in 2014 with a three-year record of 4-6 and a 5.32 ERA. But he rediscovered his form in Japan.
Three years in Yomiuri produced a 31-13 record with a 2.18 ERA, though Mikolas was limited to just 91.2 innings pitched in 2016. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander won Central League MVP of the Month awards in June 2015 and August 2017, becoming the first foreign-born pitcher in Yomiuri Giants franchise history to earn the honor multiple times.
Between his 2015 and 2016 seasons, Mikolas posted a 13-game win streak, becoming the first foreign pitcher to accomplish such a feat in the Central League. In 188 innings last season, he struck out 188 batters while walking just 23.
“Pre-Japan, I was mostly fastball-curveball and would mix the slider in a little bit. I could be a little wild at times,” Mikolas said. “Post-Japan, I feel like I’m a little bit more of a complete pitcher — fastball, curveball, slider for strikes, mix in a changeup, change speeds better and work the count a little better.
“A little bit toward the end of my first year when I got on a bit of a strong run, everything kind of fell together ... The way I was pitching was really the way I wanted to pitch. I thought it would translate (in the U.S.) and I’m excited to see if it does.”
Mikolas worked for a half-season in Texas with Cardinals’ new pitching coach Mike Maddux.
Mozeliak said that familiarity, along with the addition of bullpen coach and Carlyle-native Kyle Eversgerd and roaming “mentor” Chris Carpenter will be a benefit to Mikolas and the rest of the Cardinals staff.
“When you talk about pitching, too, you have to recognize the hiring of Maddux, the promotion of Gerdy (Eversgerd), and also the addition of Chris Carpenter. All these gentlemen are going to have their finger prints on a lot of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Mozeliak said.
Mikolas earned the nickname “Lizard King” when, on a bet, he ate a lizard in the bullpen during a 2011 Arizona Fall League game. It’s a delicacy he’s since given up.
“In Florida, all the iguanas are falling out of the trees right now because of the cold weather,” he joked. “I know people are scooping them up left in right. Somebody is eating them. Thankfully it’s not me.”