Lane goes from OF to mound in comeback bid

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Between Cy Young contender Ian Kennedy, 42-year-old reliever Takashi Saito and top prospects like Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs, the Diamondbacks have plenty of pitching stories to follow in spring camp.

The most interesting, however, might just be that of Jason Lane, a pitcher turned outfielder turned pitcher again now trying to catch on with the D-backs as a non-roster invitee.

Lane, 35, was drafted by the Houston Astros after pitching at Southern California. But the Astros decided his bat was his best asset and converted him to first base. In 2005, playing outfield, delivered 26 home runs and 78 RBI for the astros while hitting .267.

Lane hit 15 homers the next season, but consistency was an issue and he hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2007. After bouncing around the minors, Lane found himself last season with the Toronto Bluejays’ Triple-A affiliate Las Vegas 51s — as an outfielder. When the 51s found themselves short on pitchers late in games, Lane offered his services.

“I offered to do it and had a little bit of success at it, so they used me a little more often,” Lane said. “Now I’ve got this opportunity (with the D-backs). It just sort of worked itself out.”

The return to pitching was in no way planned. It just sort of happened. Lane totaled 13 innings in six appearances for the 51s and says pitching is like riding a bike. You don’t forget how to do it.

“I was pretty comfortable out there pretty quick,” Lane said. “It came back to me. I can always throw strikes. I pitched a lot as a younger player, all the way through college, so it wasn’t totally foreign to me.”

The intricacies like command and velocity didn’t come back quite as easily, and Lane said the biggest challenge has been conditioning. This is his first professional offseason as a pitcher, so he’s adjusting to the changes in his workout routine, like throwing every day.

In camp on Tuesday, Lane threw his first major league bullpen session.
Ironically enough, he did so just after top prospect Trevor Bauer, the D-backs’ 21-year-old first-round pick from the 2011 draft, threw his first.

Lane knows his story is unusual, particularly because of his age. (Sergio Santos, a former first-round draft choice of the Diamondbacks as a shortstop, made the conversion to relief pitching three years ago, at age 26, and is now the closer for the Toronto Blue Jays.) Not many outfielders make the move to the mound after 30, but there are some advantages.

“My arm is somewhat fresh, and I’ve taken care of it,” he said. “I don’t have the wear and tear like a 35-year-old pitcher would have.”

Lane said he hasn’t concerned himself with the logistics of the D-backs’ roster and his chances of sticking in the majors. His first priority is just trying to show the D-backs he can contribute as a pitcher.

“I haven’t even looked at that side of it yet,” Lane said. “Obviously my goal is to get to the big leagues and help this team win. So I just try to take care of what I can do and work on what I can bring to the team.”