Mikolas, who didn't pitch in the major leagues for three seasons before the Cardinals signed him in December 2017, was superb last campaign, finishing 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 146 strikeouts in 200.2 innings. That earned him a trip to the All-Star Game, and he finished sixth in the National League Cy Young voting.
Mikolas was so good last season that manager Mike Shildt announced he would be the team's Opening Day starter on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers on March 28.
"It's a recognition of last year," Shildt said, per Brenden Schaeffer of KMOV.com. "It's completely well-deserved. We're really, really happy for him. It's quite an honor, especially based on the staff that we have, so he's going to be our lead guy to start the season, and it's well, well-deserved."
Mikolas, 30, began his MLB career with the San Diego Padres (2012-13) before spending a year with the Texas Rangers in 2014. He never flashed the potential he's displayed for the Cardinals, however, and went to Japan, playing three seasons for the Yomiuri Giants of the Nippon Professional Baseball League.
It was there Mikolas came into his own with the help of his former manager, Tatsunori Hara.
"My bullpen is very relaxed, and I was hitting all my spots really well, and everything was kind of nice and easy," Mikolas said in August, per Torrey Hart of Yahoo Sports. "And he asked me why I don't throw like that on the field, like why I'm trying so hard when I'm out there."
His time in Japan also helped him from a mechanical standpoint, and he learned to pitch with better balance.
"Being able to watch how some of those guys use their bodies, and how they work on how much balance they have—how important that balance can be throughout not just when you pick your leg up, but balance throughout your delivery from start to finish—was kind of huge," he said.
All of those lessons translated last year, when Mikolas was one of baseball's most pleasant surprises. That has been rewarded this winter, as Mikolas earned a hefty contract extension and will open the season for the Cardinals.
"A year ago right now, saying that Miles would have been our Opening Day starter this year would have been a shock to everyone," general manager Mike Girsch said Saturday. "But he pitched amazing last year; he's been a great influence on the clubhouse. He's just a happy guy to have around, and it's nice that he's going to be getting the Opening Day start."