PORT CHARLOTTE -- Dan Johnson, who authored two of the biggest home runs in Rays history, is returning to the organization.
But not to hit more home runs.
Johnson, whose ninth inning homer in Game 162 in 2011 capped a comeback against the Yankees and set the stage for Evan Longoria’s walk-off homer, took his physicals today and is set to sign a minor league contract today and try to reinvent himself as a knuckleball pitcher.
“This is the time,” Johnson said. “I’m 36 and ready to go at this.”
Johnson has thrown a knuckleball all his life. He said he threw around 10 bullpens in 2013 while playing for the Yankees Triple A tam in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. There was talk, he said, of him pitching in a game.
Johnson said he had minor league offers this season as a first baseman/DH, but held off signing with a team because of the Rays interest in him as a pitcher.
“The Rays are not afraid to do things outside the box,” Johnson said.
The Rays hired former big league knuckleballer Charlie Haeger this offseason to be a minor league pitching coordinator. Haeger is currently working with Eddie Gamboa, a non-roster pitcher in camp who is trying to make his knuckleball major league-ready.
Johnson played in the major leagues during parts of his 15-year pro career.
His ninth inning pinch-hit home run off Jonathan Papelbon in September 2008 helped the Rays rally in Boston for a win that allowed them to hold on to first place.
His two-out, pinch-hit home run against the Yankees tied the score at 7-7 in a game the Rays trailed 7-0 after six innings.
The seat just beyond the right field fence at Tropicana Field where the ball landed is painted yellow.
When asked if he is willing to return to the low minors in an effort to perfect the pitch, Johnson said, “Yeah, what else am I going to do?”