Venice Beach’s Lizard King, an alter ego of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, imitated a Native American shaman. Since shamans identified strongly with an animal deity, Morrison chose the lizard because of its ability to reinvent itself by constantly shedding its skin and personified his deity by only wearing leather pants. Native cultures shaman guide followers through sacred ceremonies involving the ingestion of peyote to lead worshippers on a spiritual awakening of higher consciousness in the same way Morrison led his loyal audiences through a journey so that they may never think the same way again. Opting to skip the hallucinogens and make believers of those weak at heart in the Peoria Javelinas bullpen during the 2011 Arizona Fall League, new San Diego Padre relief pitcher Miles Mikolas turned Lizard King chose to square up on clubhouse dues by accepting the $250 dare bet wagered by fellow players and ingesting a Mountain Dew marinated cold-blooded reptile.
With nearly 10,000 hits on YouTube for his fearless antics in the bullpen, the six-foot-five Mikolas has quite a Alice Cooper cult following outside of baseball. Hoping to tone down his rock star status and keep the fear factor limited to hitters facing him on the mound, Mikolas said: “We were joking around in the bullpen and one thing led to another and there was some money on the line so … you know. I’m a little bit fearless. Even eating a lizard won’t turn me away. Hopefully, I can open their eyes a little bit more.” Although he has enjoyed his notoriety outside of the game for having no fear, the phone rang early Saturday morning at 6 am (Texas League time) to see just how much he could intimidate the slew of armed and dangerous hitters found daily on the Miami Marlins line-up card. Heralded as PadresProspects.com’s #25 prospect and not expected to make his MLB debut until late this season, the 23-year-old San Antonio Mission right-handed reliever received his call up from Double-A ball to the major leagues earlier than expected when Padre closer Huston Street was placed on the 15-day DL. Mikolas couldn’t have picked a more powerful slugger, the Paul Bunyan of professional baseball–Giancarlo Stanton–for his very first batter to face in his MLB debut on May 5, 2012 at PETCO Park.
With his hometown of Jupiter, Florida also being the home of the Marlins’ Spring Training, Miles Mikolas was beyond transcendental pitching against the team he cheered for as a youth. Miles said, “It was a great feeling being out there, especially against a team I grew up rooting for in South Florida as a Marlins fan. To be facing them was neat.” The rookie who had gained Lizard King notoriety for his fear factor ways in the bullpen would shed his skin on the mound in the ninth inning with the Padres trailing 3-1. With the count full on Giancarlo Stanton, the six-foot-five reliever served up a fastball he probably wishes that he could take back. Stanton answered by launching a moonshot off the left field third tier of the Western Metal Supply Company to give the Marlins a comfortable 4-1 lead. Mikolas can take solace in knowing he’s not the only pitcher to give up a home run to the 22-year-old Stanton, who has homered six times in the last nine games and is on pace to become the future all-time MLB home run record holder. “It’s good knowing that he is getting a little bit of everybody,” Miles said. “I’m not the only guy getting singled out.”With the top layer of the epidermis peeled off by Giancarlo’s baptism by fire, Mikolas was stripped to the raw core of his confidence and fought back. The remainder of his MLB debut was nearly textbook minus a walk to Gaby Sanchez. John Buck was shell-shocked staring at Mikolas’ Hammer, the epitome of a sharp-breaking curve, for strike three. Then Marlins starting pitcher Mark Buehrle laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Sanchez to second. Mikolas ended the inning on a high note by striking out last year’s National League Batting Champion Jose Reyes looking. Miles reflected and said,
“I settled down and made some really good pitches there toward the end. One bad pitch. Right after Stanton hit the home run I was like, ‘Well, you know, there it is. Welcome to the major leagues.'”
Mikolas made his encore appearance pitching in the Padres’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins on Sunday, when he came in relief during the eighth inning and recorded the final out after issuing a walk. Prior to pitching in the Bigs, Mikolas was 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in Double-A San Antonio. Padre manager Bud Black commented, “This spring, he threw the ball well.
I think that continued on there in San Antonio. Of all the guys that we looked at, he was the guy that our Minor League people said, ‘He’s the guy.'” The San Diego skipper has liked what he has seen so far from the rookie Mikolas. “That’s a big curveball,” Black said. “His challenge will be to get that in the strike zone. It has good rotation. You can combine that with a low-90s, mid-90s fastball. It’s a nice variation. It’s a nice difference of velocity. But the key is getting the breaking pitch in for a strike, because he’s got enough fastball. There’s no doubt about that.” A few weeks ago, Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard–Mikolas’ roommate at Double-A San Antonio–predicted weeks ago that Miles would be the first member of the Mission pitching staff to break into the Bigs. ‘The Big Dog’ Beard said, “I’m stoked for Miles. It couldn’t happen to a better bloke!” After Jupiter High School baseball, Mikolas played through his junior year at Nova Southeastern University (NSU)–where he ranked fourth all-time with 167 career strikeouts and fifth with 32 games started–before being the seventh round pick by San Diego in the 2009 draft. That year he was one of four NSU players drafted, three of whom have now appeared on a Major League 40-man roster–including Mikolas, J.D. Martinez (Astros) and Mike Fiers (Brewers). After converting from a starter to a reliever, Mikolas quickly moved up the Padres system to the Single-A affilate Fort Wayne TinCaps, where he would become a 2010 Midwest League All-Star after striking out 78 batters in 60 appearances.
The Southern Florida native last season split time between the Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm and the Double-A San Antonio Missions. He went a combined 4-0 with 21 saves and a 1.38 earned run average. Mikolas was dominant on the mound, striking out 69 in 72 innings of relief. Rumor has it that an unnamed Lake Elsinore Storm pitcher was betting everyone he could hit triple digits but could only hit 99 on the radar gun that year. However, the Lizard King of the bullpen has since touched 100 mph with a spike in velocity. The fearless pitcher and part-time shaman will change our way of thinking of the Padres’ winning ways by keeping hitters uneasy and off balance with his unrelentless heat and signature Mikolas Hammer.