Throwback Jason Lane Keeps on Going

EL PASO - Earlier in the year one of the better stories in major league baseball was the return of Jason Lane, 37, to the major leagues as a pitcher, a full seven years after he left the major leagues as an outfielder.

Lane threw three and a third scoreless innings in his June 3 big league debt as a pitcher and a few days later threw another inning of scoreless relief. On June 7 he was designated for assignment, removed from the 40-man roster, to make room for starting pitcher Andrew Cashner.

The well chronicled comeback drew the attention of the national media as well as local but the most interesting part of the story, and with Jason there are quite a few angles, may be that he is truly a throwback to another era in the way that he excels not only on the mound but at the plate.

Not since Brooks Kieschnick, a former star pitcher/designated hitter with the University of Texas who late in his career had some success as a part-time designated hitter/pinch-hitter/left fielder and bullpen pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003-2004 has someone really tried to do both.

Lane has logged more innings than any other pitcher on the Chihuahuas’ roster this season with 115.2 and has gone at least six innings or more in 14 of his 19 starts. His ERA is 4.67, but a 3.90 at home, in a league that may be the best place to hit anywhere in professional baseball.

In 49 plate appearances he is hitting .419/.490/.721 with three home runs and hitting .429 as a pinch-hitter in 17 plate appearances.

“He is really impressive to watch,” said Cody Decker, a man who plays many roles with the Chihuahuas one of which is occasionally catching Lane.

“On the mound he knows how to control a game. His tempo is excellent and he executes his plan. At the plate, he’s a professional hitter and knows exactly what he is trying to do.”

Lane, who played his college ball at Santa Rosa Junior College and USC where he was both pitched and played the field as an outfielder/first baseman.

“My senior year at USC I broke my thumb on my left hand but couldn’t pitch until the end of the year. Ultimately I was told that I was going to be drafted as a pitcher but just hitting got me picked as a position player - which was then my passion.”

“Growing up it was just something that I always did. In fact, it always felt a little strange early in my career to not do both.”

In his seven years in the big leagues he had some pretty good numbers his best coming in 2005 where he hit 34 doubles and 26 home runs on an Astros team that lost in the World Series to the White Sox.

He began having problems making consistent contact and was acquired by the Padres in late September of 2007. Not offered a contract for the next season he bounced around with several organizations before the Diamondbacks thought he might have a future as a pitcher.

“When I converted to a pitcher it wasn’t because I didn’t think I could hit any more I just wasn’t getting the at-bats and opportunities that I wanted.”

“I got a great opportunity with the D-Backs as a pitcher because they believed in me and that is all you really want and can ask for as a player.”

Unfortunately, the Diamondbacks didn’t give him much of a chance in AAA Reno and cut him after 18 games where he pitched in five games with a 7.59 ERA.

“It really pissed me off at the time but I got an opportunity from a friend of mine Gary Gaetti to come play for him in Sugar Land Skeeters in the Atlantic League {Independent League] to pitch and DH which was right by my home.”

“In the end being released from the Diamondbacks was really the best thing for me because it helped me make up for lost time and catch up physically with recovery and arm strength.”

“Also I kept on hitting because I started once a week and then I was the DH the rest of the week.”

“Playing there is what gave me an opportunity with this organization.”

Jason logged nearly two full years with Sugar Land throwing 216.1 innings for a 3.06 ERA and 17-9 record before being signed to a minor league contract with the Padres last year in late July where he was 2-2 with a 5.24 ERA.

“I top out at low 90s but my game is more about command and changing speeds,” Lane said on his style as a pitcher. “I throw a four-seam fastball with some movement, change-up, curve ball and a slider.”

And while he was showing everyone that he could pitch, Lane was also showing people that he could still swing the bat with 45 home runs in Sugar Land and a .400 batting average in 10 plate appearances with the Tucson Padres.

“I take BP everyday. On the pitching side you can’t work at high volumes like you do with hitting so there is plenty of time for me to do both because you only have so many bullets as a pitcher when you are trying to recover for your next start.”

“I still really enjoy hitting and feel that I can help the team with my experience there. I still like to play the outfield and first and think there is a spot in the game for someone like me.”

In addition to having an interesting story on converting from a position player to a pitcher he is also one of the very rare position players that was a right-handed hitter but throws left-handed.

“I don’t know how it happened the main reason is an eye dominance thing. I felt comfortable hitting from the left side but just didn’t see the ball as well. I never saw it as anything odd, just something that I did.”

At 37, with a couple of years of big league paychecks under his belt and after having made it back to the big leagues as a pitcher, many would have called it a career after being designated for assignment after his brief trip up to the big leagues.

But for Jason the only real question was the time and place of his next start in El Paso.

“I have a passion for baseball like nothing else and I think I can help a team win,” said Lane on why he is still playing the game with players that most of the time are ten or more years younger than him.

“If I didn’t think I could get back to the big leagues I wouldn’t be doing this.”

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