PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It's natural to root for a long shot, and any compassionate baseball fan would have trouble not rooting for Mitch Harris. That includes Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.
Harris, a right-handed pitcher, was a 13th-round Draft selection by the Cardinals in 2008 out of the U.S. Naval Academy, meaning that he was committed to five years of military service following graduation. The Cardinals waited for Harris to fulfill his obligation to the Navy, and after posting an 0.81 ERA in the short-season rookie league in State College, Penn., Harris climbed three levels of the Cardinals' farm system in 2014.
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That earned Harris a non-roster invitation to Spring Training last year, and a few weeks later, he was called up from Triple-A Memphis and made his Major League debut on April 25, holding the Brewers scoreless for 1 1/3 innings in a 5-3 Cardinals win. That day, Harris became the first U.S. Naval Academy graduate to appear in a Major League game since 1921.
The odds are stacked against a 30-year-old pitcher making it to the Majors after a five-year absence from the game, but Harris is determined to make it happen.
"It's a great story. I'm real happy to be a part of that story and watch him beat the odds," Matheny said before the Cardinals' 7-2 loss against the Mets at Tradition Field. "It's been a long time since anybody's been able to do what he did. Also the platform he has as one of the people who served our country, and to be able to jump into our world as well -- it's very unique."
Harris has experienced some arm soreness during camp, but he made his debut appearance this spring on Thursday. Matheny called him out of the bullpen to replace starter Jaime Garcia in the bottom of the fourth with two outs and a runner on first. Harris promptly induced a groundout by the Mets' Kevin Plawecki for the third out.
Harris recorded two strikeouts in the fifth, but he also allowed three hits, including a two-run homer by Ruben Tejada that tied the game at 2.
"Results might not be what you want, but it's spring, and that's the good part," Harris said. "Still learning some things, some mechanics things. I'm feeling great. Just build off this outing today."
Matheny said that the arm soreness has held Harris back some from working on some mechanical adjustments with his delivery.
"Mitch is going to continue to have to sift through [adjustments], but he's a sharp kid," Matheny said. "He knows what he wants to do, and we're just kind of helping him figure it out. But the stuff is there."
Harris said that he realizes that five years away from the game put him behind the eight-ball, but he knows he can't make up those five years in a short time.
"Sometimes I have to step back myself and realize this is still only year three for me," Harris said. "Some of these guys have been doing it for seven, 10 years. I have to tell myself that I can't try to catch up to them, because that's not going to happen. I expect a lot out of myself, and I want to be at the level I want to be at, and I won't settle. We'll get there."
Matheny hopes he does, but he also can't let emotions get in the way of his decision-making.
"There's things that he can continue to improve on," Matheny said of Harris. "And right now, we understand the story, and we appreciate the story. But we've got to choose our best guys, and he needs to keep going so he can be one of those."