The epitome of the scrappy utilityman, Aaron Miles played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2006 to 2008 and again in 2010. A second baseman by trade, he appeared all over the diamond – at every position on the field with the exception of first base and catcher. The light-hitter even once appeared on Tony La Russa’s lineup card as the Cards’ designated hitter.
Also serving as La Russa’s emergency pitcher, the right-hander appeared on the mound in five games, covering five innings of mop-up duty over the final three of his four St. Louis seasons. Miles allowed two earned runs for a respectable career ERA of 3.60.
Yet even the now-retired Miles has been trumped by now former catcher Rob Johnson. The latter has signed a minor league contract with San Diego as a right-handed pitcher, reports Baseball America.
Now 31 years of age, the Montana native has been bouncing back and forth between the minors and majors for a full decade. Johnson has 829 career plate appearances in the bigs and another 2,299 in the minors. Having joined the Cardinals system one year ago, Johnson spent the first half of the 2013 season at Triple-A Memphis.
In addition to appearing in 20 games behind the plate as the Cards’ third-string backstop, Johnson was called upon to pitch the team’s final out in a 13-4 blowout loss to the Dodgers at Busch Stadium on August 7. On his fourth offering, he retired pitcher Paco Rodriguez on a strikeout looking.
It was Star Wars Night at the ballpark, but the game became memorable for different reasons – none of them good.
In a major scare, Cards starter Shelby Miller was struck on the elbow by a line drive and left the game for X-rays after throwing just two pitches. In a relief role, losing pitcher Jake Westbrook continued his messy slide toward his exit from the game by getting pounded for nine earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. Johnson had to come in with two runners on base to rescue Keith Butler, after the rookie had allowed the final four Dodgers to come home.
Miller returned to the rotation after getting a couple of extra days off. From then on, his strong rookie season results began to erode a bit – to the point he was surprisingly absent during most of the post-season. Westbrook made three more appearances, with similar bad results, before being given a farewell lap with a one-inning start in game 162. He retired from baseball this winter. Following his August 7 outing, Butler was shipped back to Memphis in favor of another rookie, Carlos Martinez. Butler’s final image of his first major league season was being pulled for a catcher.
It wasn’t Johnson’s initial mound appearance, though his ERA remains perfect. He made his pitching debut with an entire scoreless inning for the 2012 New York Mets, an outing in which he collected his first strikeout.
Unfortunately for Johnson, the Cardinals apparently wanted to use his roster spot on a younger player. He was taken off the 40-man and became a free agent once again in early November.
In 2014, Johnson will be trying to pitch every day in an unusual effort to prolong his career. Somewhere, Miles, still just 37 years of age, may be digging his glove out of the closet in response.