Rays’ Hero Dan Johnson Back, but as a Knuckleballer

First baseman Dan Johnson has had a mostly under-the-radar big-league career except for his time with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Probably remembered by most for his game-tying solo shot in the exceptionally dramatic final day of the 2011 regular season, Johnson recently returned to the team…but with a new role.

As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported this week, Johnson signed a minor-league deal with the Rays as a knuckleball pitcher.

That’s right – the man known for two of the biggest home runs in Rays’ franchise history is trying to extend his career by reinventing himself as a soft-tossing knuckleballer.

Over the course of his career, which has included stints with the Oakland Athletics, Rays, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox, Johnson took part in the ‘positional player pitching’ phenomenon a few times.

As he told Topkin, he’s wanted to seriously try pitching for a while now and doesn’t really care how the team handles the process – he just wants to give it a shot:

“I’m into it,” he said. “It’s completely up to the Rays how they want to work it. I’m coming in with an open mind. Send me to the Dominican league, I don’t care.”

For his career, Johnson has hit 57 home runs at the MLB level to go along with a cumulative .234/.335/.405 line. His best complete season was 2007 with the A’s, when he clubbed 18 round-trippers for the team and appeared in 117 games.

The stage is now set for Johnson’s triumphant return to the big leagues. If he’s able to hone his pitching skills and make it back to the Rays, it would further strengthen his case as one of the Rays’ most infamous players in the short history of the franchise.

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