Mitch Harris did not receive a non-roster invitation to the Cardinals' major-league camp but believes he will make it back there again. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

When the 33 pitchers the Cardinals are bringing to their major-league spring training camp report to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter next week, Mitch Harris will be down the hall, using a locker in the minor-league clubhouse.

Harris, dropped from the 40-man roster in the off-season after surgery on his right arm forced him to miss the 2016 season, was surprised to find out he would not be receiving a non-roster invitation to the major-league camp.

General Manager John Mozeliak confirmed the decision, saying it was “performance and injury” related.

Having overcome long odds before to make it to the major leagues, the former Navy officer is using this latest development as more motivation to prove to all of those who doubt him that he can make it back to the Cardinals.

“I could never figure out the true reason, but it is what it is,” Harris said by telephone Tuesday from Jupiter, where he has been working out for the last few weeks. “All I can do now is pitch like I know I’m capable and hopefully get a call up to help them out when I can.

“Technically I am still on the rehab thing because of the surgery so I will be down here throwing and working out, I just won’t be going to big-league camp.”

At this time last year, Harris began having discomfort in his right arm which affected him throughout spring training and eventually forced him to undergo surgery for a torn ligament in his elbow, the new procedure from Dr. George Paletta called a “primary repair.” The surgery is not as extensive as Tommy John surgery and has a shorter timetable for recovery. It is the same operation Seth Maness had last season as well.

The 31-year-old Harris has been on the mound, throwing bullpens at what he estimates at 75 to 80 percent, and has reported no setbacks. After a couple of more sessions he expects to be ready to start facing hitters.

“Obviously I get it that there are some uncertainties of the surgery, it’s a new surgery, I get all that,” Harris said. “I just felt like if they wanted to keep an eye on how things were going the best way to do that would be to have me at big-league spring training.

“It’s just a motivational factor to prove to everyone, whoever else I need to prove to yet again, that I’m not done. I feel good, actually better than I did when I was quote-unquote ‘healthy.’ We don’t know how long this injury was bothering me, but I feel better now than I did in 2015.”

That was the year Harris made it to the major leagues, completing a remarkable journey that saw him have to wait nearly five years to begin his professional career while honoring his military commitment following graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy.

Harris made his major-league debut at the age of 29 and made 26 relief appearances for the Cardinals, going 2-1 with a 3.67 ERA. At the time he said his goal was not just to get to the major leagues but to stay there, and now he is hoping to get back there – and stick – again.

“I’m excited for this season to get started and once again prove a lot of doubters wrong,” said Harris, now 31 and the father of a 2-month-old daughter, Rylan. “At this point it’s kind of just part of my journey, I believe.

“My arm feels great. I’m excited to see what I can do when I get to 100 percent. Honestly I’m pretty close. The only thing I lack is facing a hitter. At this point last year this is when I started to have some worrisome thoughts. I didn’t know what to think, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t feeling 100 percent. This is completely different than last year.”

Harris said his confidence is “through the roof” about his comeback. He views the surgery as a minor hiccup which he has fully recovered from and said he has no hesitation about how his arm is going to feel when he steps on the mound.

“When I get out there now I’m at the point where I know everything is going to come out fine, it’s just a matter of getting back into the mechanics and the recovery and feeling ready to go,” he said.

“My mentality is that all I can do is pitch like I know I am capable of and like I really believe I am able to pitch now and hopefully that’s enough to get me back into the scheme of things.

“I can only do what I can control, and my motivator is to again – as I feel like I did several years ago when people never thought I had a shot – is to prove them wrong again.”

Harris admits it will be different next week, knowing he will be kind of an outsider, not a part of the major-league camp.

“It doesn’t feel good,” he said. “All the guys I’ve played with the past two, three years with are all there. It will be different, but that just adds to that motivation factor. Nothing against the front office, it is a business. They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do, but at the end of the day it is a demotion no matter how you look at it.

“Anytime you get demoted you either light a fire under your butt so to speak or you quit, and I’ve never been a quitter. … I’m using it to push me to get back to where I was in 2015, if not better.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains