July 21, 2009 was the day when Jason Lane made his professional pitching debut. At the time Lane was still trying to make it back to the big leagues as an outfielder. His numbers weren't terrible: .253/.347/.462 with 13 home runs in 2009. That's not anything special either for a player who was an average of 5.4 years older than the rest of the AAA players.
Once upon a time Lane was a top prospect in the Astros organization who went on to hit 26 home runs for the 2005 NL Champions, including a dinger in game three of the World Series. But Lane's MLB success didn't last long and he ended up in AAA just two years later before leaving the Astros organization.
But on that July night in '09, Lane's Las Vegas 51s (of the Blue Jays system at the time) were getting beat 11-6 and they decided to throw the 6'2" lefty in there to finish the game. Lane retired the three batters he faced in order and his catcher, Brian Jeroloman, noticed that Lane wasn't half bad. However, nothing came of it - at least not immediately.
Lane would go on to throw a combined 5.2 innings in 2010 with independent baseball's Southern Maryland and Las Vegas again. Lane threw 13 innings with Las Vegas in 2011, before heading back to independent baseball once more. This time, it was exclusively as a pitcher.
Lane threw 110.2 innings for the Sugar Land Skeeters where he put together an ERA of 3.17 while striking out 77, earning him a minor-league contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks. A 7.59 ERA in 21.1 innings with AAA Reno did not lead to the D-Backs bringing him back.
Back to Sugar Land last year where Lane posted a 2.98 ERA in 105.2 innings which led to a call from the San Diego Padres. Things again didn't go so well - a 5.24 ERA in 46.1 innings with AAA Tucson. But this time, Lane is getting a second chance. So far, he's making the most of it.
In 2014 with San Diego's AAA squad, now located in El Paso, Lane has started five games and thrown 31 innings while compiling a 2.32 ERA. The 37-year old, who is now 10 years older than the average player he faces, has numbers that scream regression: nine strikeouts, a .267 BABIP and a 4.59 FIP. But, hey, it's a pretty cool story right now.
Oh, and Lane is also 7-for-14 at the dish with a home run and two doubles. Still got it!
As for Lane's first backstop, Jeroloman, he's currently getting going again with the Nationals AA affiliate, Harrisburg, after a horrific collision at the plate during last year's Eastern League playoffs. Jeroloman's first night back behind the plate featured a position player pitcher, utility infielder Sean Nicol. This won't lead to a cool story like Lane. Nicol was lit up for four hits and three earned runs, including back-to-back home runs.
And, yes, Lane's ERA would be the best among starters at the Astros' AAA affiliate Oklahoma City. As an answer to the question if Lane could pitch in the Astros rotation? In short, no. The Astros' starters haven't been too bad. As a long reliever? Actually, yeah, that would not be a stretch at all.
The Astros current long reliever, Paul Clemens, and Lane actually had fairly similar numbers in AAA last season. Clemens only threw 30 innings for OKC while posting a 4.24 FIP with 4.80 K/9. Lane with 46.1 innings had a 4.50 FIP with 6.41 K/9. The big difference is that Clemens got the right to be knocked around by MLB pitching for 73.1 innings to the tune of a -1.0 WAR.
Gimmicks should be left for the Minor League or independent league baseball, but I think it's safe to say that it would be pretty cool if Lane returned to the Astros seven years later as a pitcher.