Navy Lt. Harris serves Cardinals for first time

After five-year commitment, pitcher debuts in big league camp

Navy Lt. Harris serves Cardinals for first time

JUPITER, Fla. -- He took the mound to "Anchors Aweigh" and an introduction that identified him properly as a lieutenant of the United States Navy. And while he wasn't pleased with the on-field result, Mitch Harris certainly did not lose sight of the moment.

Drafted out of the Naval Academy in the 13th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Harris' baseball career was put on hold by the five-year military service commitment he first had to meet. Harris received his release from the Navy in January, allowing him the chance to report early to Spring Training and begin the process of working back into pitching shape.

Aware of Harris' story and having heard of the progress he's made this spring, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny invited Harris to serve as an "extra pitcher" in Sunday's Grapefruit League games. Typically, Minor League pitchers called up for the day don't see any action. Matheny wanted to make an exception in this case, however, to "honor a kid who made a sacrifice to our country like he has."

With one out and the tying run at second in the seventh, Matheny made the summons.

"If you had told me this two or three years ago," Harris later said of the opportunity, "I wouldn't have believed you."

The results weren't as anyone would have drawn them up for such a feel-good moment. Harris allowed a pair of two-run homers and retired only one hitter. He shouldered the loss in the 10-7 defeat to the Mets.

"It's one of those learning experiences," Harris said. "You get humbled real quickly. But it's good because it's going to definitely jumpstart another whole level or work ethic to get to where I want to be. If I was just happy to be here in Minor League camp, then I'm not here for the right reasons.

"A day like today really shows that, hey, it's not just going to come back. Each day give it 100 percent and make progress. It's going to take time. The more time I get, the better I'll get."

The Cardinals are encouraged by the progress they've seen Harris make already this spring. Though his fastball velocity sat around 92-94 mph in college, he entered camp throwing it around 80 mph. That was to be expected from a pitcher who had few opportunities to pitch while he served.

But that velocity has already ticked up about 6-7 mph, and the Cardinals are pleased with the development of Harris' breaking ball. The organization will have him stay in Jupiter to pitch in extended spring training next month before eventually sending him off to one of the Minor League affiliates.

"Obviously, he's tremendously coachable," said farm director John Vuch. "Really, for him, it's a matter of getting back into pitching shape. He went five years without pitching competitively and not really being able to throw on a consistent basis, so I think he's getting back into baseball shape.

"We're excited in what we see from him now compared to where he was a month ago."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.