Former Navy Lt. Mitch Harris, who made history when he reached the majors in 2015, was released by the Cardinals on Tuesday. (File)
By Rob Rains
Mitch Harris, the former Navy Lieutenant who made history when he reached the major leagues with the Cardinals in 2015, was released by the organization on Tuesday.
Harris was told of the club’s decision when he reported to the minor league facility in Jupiter, Fla., where he has been rehabbing his right arm. He had been scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday before he was told by Gary LaRocque, the director of player development, that he had been released.
Harris, 31, has battled arm injuries for the last couple of seasons and that was no doubt a factor in the Cardinals’ decision.
“Basically they said they didn’t see me having either too much of an impact or innings at Memphis,” Harris said in a telephone conversation. “They just said there wasn’t room.”
LaRocque did not respond to a request for comment on the decision to release Harris.
The decision came as a surprise to Harris, who was happy with how his latest rehab work had been progressing.
“I think I’ve been throwing much better than I have in the past,” Harris said. “It is what it is. It’s part of the business.”
Harris said he is hoping he can find another team willing to give him a chance to continue his quest to return to the major leagues.
“I’m still going to fight to get back to be where I think I can be,” he said. “I believe another team will give me an opportunity to keep playing. … I think I can still pitch.”
Harris underwent ligament repair surgery on his right elbow last June. It is an unproven operation which doctors hope can allow players to return more quickly than Tommy John surgery, but whether or not that is true has yet to be proven.
“I want to prove that I’m healthy,” Harris said. “How much time is that to the team? They still have to do their part. I understand that. If my time didn’t line up with their time, that meant my time was up. They didn’t think I was going to get back to the pitcher they needed me to be.
“If there was any confusion I would say it (the surgery) is supposed to be shorter than Tommy John but no one’s done it yet so how do we know? Once my injury happened maybe they just assumed I wouldn’t be who I was before.”
The injury and subsequent surgery forced Harris to miss all of last season. He pitched in two games in April for the Triple A Memphis Redbirds before going back on the disabled list a couple of weeks ago. In those two games, on April 13 and 16, Harris worked one inning in each game. He allowed three hits and two runs in the first outing, then worked a 1-2-3 inning in his second appearance, needing only seven pitches to record the three outs.
“Was I effective? Yes,” Harris said. “Ironically the game I gave up two runs I felt better than the other game. I had two broken bats and a bloop hit that scored two runs. I thought I pitched well but maybe the ball was up a little bit. I felt good and that was all that mattered.
“I don’t think you can take much from those outings; it was the first time I had thrown in over a year. I started to feel my forearm after those outings and that was why we wanted to double check some things.”
Harris thought he was only days away from pitching in games in the extended spring training program and then making some rehab appearances at lower levels of the organization.
“I feel normal, now it’s just a matter of recovery,” he said.
The Cardinals selected Harris in the 13th round of the 2008 draft out of the U.S. Naval Academy, knowing he had a five-year active duty commitment before he could begin his professional career. Without the military commitment, Harris could have been drafted as early as the second round. Harris tried to keep his arm in shape by throwing as often and wherever he could which included workouts on the deck of his ship when he was serving deployments at sea.
Harris finally received his release from the Navy a few months early, and made his professional debut on June 19, 2013, throwing 1 2/3 perfect innings for the State College Spikes.
He worked his way through the organization in two years, getting the call from the Cardinals in April 2015.
When he made his major-league debut on April 25, 2015, in Milwaukee, he became the first graduate of the Naval Academy to reach the major leagues since 1921.
Harris made 26 relief appearances for the Cardinals, posting a 2-1 record and 3.67 ERA.
After being informed of the team’s decision, Harris went on Instagram to thank the organization.
“They believed in me when others didn’t,” Harris wrote. “They provided me the opportunity to fulfill my dream and to that I say thank you. Today marks the end to my time with the Cardinals but the beginning to another journey. I don’t know what God’s plan is but I know I am excited for it.”
Harris said he and his agent will see if there is an opportunity available with other teams but he doesn’t have a timetable of how long he will wait before deciding if this could mark the end of his career.
“My wife and I have talked about it and we’ll just kind of play it by ear,” Harris said. “We’ll kind of decide when enough is enough and need to realize we need to change course. We have a child now, so things are going to be much more important.”
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