After pitching in Japan for the last three seasons, Miles Mikolas is returning to the majors, signing a two-year deal Tuesday with the Cardinals. 

By Rob Rains

Two days after learning they would not be signing free agent Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, the Cardinals landed another player from that country who could turn out to be a nice consolation prize.

The Cardinals agreed to a two-year contract with right-handed pitcher Miles Mikolas, a native of Jupiter, Fla., on Tuesday. Mikolas, 29, has spent the last three years with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan’s professional league, compiling a 31-13 record with a 2.18 ERA.

The deal reportedly is worth $15.5 million.

“They checked off a number of boxes,” Mikolas said during a conference call about his decision to sign with the Cardinals. “Spring training right here at home was big. I used to go to the games here when I was a kid. It’s now kind of neat to be a part of that spring training … I’m about as local as they get.”

Mikolas had brief experience in the majors with the Padres and Rangers before moving to Japan in 2015. This season he made 27 starts, going 14-8 with a 2.25 ERA. In 188 innings, he struck out 187 batters and walked only 23.

“The biggest adjustment I thought I made was just command of all my pitches,” Mikolas said. “I’m a lot more comfortable throwing breaking balls down in the count, inside-outside, moving the fastball around better and what it feels like to go through a lineup three or four times.”

In 424 innings in Japan over the last three seasons, Mikolas recorded 378 strikeouts and issued 69 walks in 62 combined starts.

“We have been tracking Miles for the last couple years as he was a perfect candidate to use the opportunity in Japan to pitch and be challenged at a high level,” said Matt Slater, the Cardinals’ director of player personnel who directs the team’s scouting efforts in Japan. “That stage of development would have been tough three years ago while he was being shuffled between Triple A and the big leagues. Miles was able to pitch in front of a sold out 40,000 seat stadium every night in the Tokyo Dome and getting that experience helped him grow his command.”

Slater was one of three Cardinals’ officials who watched Mikolas in person last summer.

“Jeff Ishii, Rick Meinhold and myself made trips to Japan this year,” Slater said. “We were looking to identify players that would fit our club and he does via his durability, plus pitches and mound presence. He impressed with his ability to maintain his stuff deep into games while having plus control.

“Our analytical department did a great job taking his performance in Japan and equating that to the major league level. That combined with scouting reports from Jeff, Ricky and myself provided us with a strong final evaluation.”

Mikolas was drafted by the Padres in the seventh round in 2007 and reached the majors in 2012, making 25 relief appearances. He also pitched in two games in 2013 while spending the rest of the season in Triple A. Mikolas was traded twice after that season, first to the Pirates and then to the Rangers.

When Mikolas made 10 starts for the Rangers in 2014, going 2-5, his pitching coach was Mike Maddux, the new pitching coach with the Cardinals.

“A lot of the things I worked on in Japan were things we had started to work on here,” Mikolas said about his relationship with Maddux. “He really puts a lot of time and effort into what he does.”

Mikolas said when he went to Japan his goal was to come back to pitch in the major leagues.

“I was just trying to better myself with the hope that I would get a chance to prove myself back here,” he said. “The stars lined up. I had a great season, my contract was up and I felt I was reaching the point where I was ready to come back and make that jump.”

Mikolas was an unrestricted free agent, not subject to any signing restrictions. His agent had been quoted last week as saying he expected Mikolas to receive at least 10 major-league offers and both the Brewers and Rangers were not known to have interest in signing him.

Mikolas should entire spring training as a candidate for the starting rotation, depending on what other moves the Cardinals make this winter. At a minimum he adds depth to the group of potential starters, which should give the team more flexible trade options as they search for both a closer and an impact bat for the middle of the lineup.

The Cardinals were informed by Ohtani’s agents on Sunday that he had narrowed his list of potential teams to seven and that they had not made the cut. All seven teams conduct spring training in Arizona, and five of the seven are West Coast teams. The only exceptions to that were the Cubs and Texas Rangers.

Mikolas is the first player the Cardinals have added to the major-league roster during the off-season, which has gotten off to a slow pace in terms of both free-agent signings and trades among all major-league teams. The pace is expected to pick up soon, with the winter meetings beginning on Sunday outside Orlando, Fla.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains