Friday Dish: Rogers Is Back

Had a tourist passing through northeastern Florida on Thursday veered off to the city of Viera just to say they wanted to catch the high Brevard County Manatees (Brewers) against the Tampa Yankees, they may have assumed the Manatees’ starting pitcher had really ticked off the bench.

After all, manager Mike Guerrero came out with the hook in the top of the third inning.

But we’ll let Mark Rogers tell the rest of the story.

"My manager came out tonight and said, ‘You’re out of bullets.’ I felt like I could have gone longer," Rogers said. "My goal is to pitch in the major leagues. And as bad as I wanted to throw 25 to 30 more pitches because I love to compete, I had to look at the bigger picture."

The bigger picture being his presence on the mound every five days. That is, consistently on the mound every five days.
While a number of intriguing storylines can be harvested throughout the opening week of the minor league season, one that cannot go unnoticed is that of Rogers.

His start the day after Opening Day and then his second on Thursday night may not have lasted long—three innings in his season debut, 2 1/3 innings last night—but they represented what amount to encouraging baby steps.

The righthander has spent two years re-strengthening his surgically repaired right shoulder and even snagged a surprise 40-man roster spot last November as the Brewers feared another club might pry him and his blazing fastball away in the Rule 5 draft.

That fastball, by the way, was registering 97 mph on Thursday night.

"It’s great to be back out there. We’ve put a lot of work into it," Rogers said in a postgame phone interview after a 4-0 Brevard County win, tipping his hat to all the Brewers’ front office, medical staff and player development coaches for sticking with him. "It’s nice to be part of a team again and put all the hard work into action."

Rogers last pitched Aug. 18, 2006, slightly more than two years after the Brewers selected him fifth overall in the 2004 draft out of Orr’s Island, Maine. Since, he’s undergone two surgeries, one to repair his labrum and another last June to remove scar tissue.

It was a worrisome stretch. Baseball America had rated Rogers as the No. 2 Brewers prospect entering 2006 on the strength of his athleticism—coming out of high school he had scholarship offers in hockey (Dartmouth), soccer (Duke) and in baseball (the Miami Hurricanes)—and a 100 mph fastball and a hard 80s slider that reached 90 mph.

However, Rogers made certain that the time away from pitching was not at all lost.

"I’ve learned how to pitch," Rogers said. "When you take time off, you learn a lot about the game. I’m working within my pitch count effectively and have become a better student of the game.

"My arm feels really good right now."

He also added this:

"It’s important to make adjustments on the fly," Rogers said. "You aren’t going to have your best stuff every day. When I start going wrong, I can address those things (such as mechanics). When I was younger, it wasn’t as easy."

Still, there is a hard part—being on a limited pitch count.

Through the first half of the season, Rogers will be limited to no more than 50 pitches an outing. On Thursday,  he was pulled after striking out two, issuing a walk and allowing three hits.

"So far, I’ve followed their plan exactly how they’ve wanted me to, and I have a lot of faith in the plan," Rogers said. "As hard as it is to give up the ball, I have to stay healthy."

P.J. Walters who has climbed from the 11th round of the 2006 draft to prospect status will make his big league debut today for the Cardinals in … drum roll please … Wrigley Field.

The rival Cubs get first crack at Walters, a righthander who is being summoned as St. Louis tries to fortify its rotation in the days since righthander Chris Carpenter suffered a muscle strain on the left side of his torso, according to BA correspondent Derrick Goold. The Cardinals also have recalled Chris Perez and Mitchell Boggs.

Carpenter was placed on the 15-day DL on Wednesday, a day after apparently suffering the injury during an at-bat.

Walters reached Double-A Springfield late in 2007, spent a month there last year and went 9-4, 4.87 with 122 strikeouts and 69 walks in 122 innings at Triple-A Memphis.

He’ll be matched opposite Carlos Zambrano.

Last Saturday, Rays lefthander David Price said he was glad to get his season debut out of the way and anticipated that he would make improvements.

On Thursday night against the visiting Gwinnett Braves, Price was saddled with the loss in a 3-0 defeat. But he struck out six, issued only one walk in five innings and pulled a Houdini act in the second innings when the Braves managed only one run thanks in part to third baseman Adam Kennedy’s throwing error.

However, he didn’t show his changeup that often.

Sometimes all it takes is one swing to get back in the groove. Triple-A Norfolk (Orioles) catcher Matt Wieters opened the year 1-for-11 with five strikeouts. Since, he’s 5-for-12, including his first home run of the season on Thursday at Charlotte.

Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick in last year’s draft, had his first memorable moment in pro ball on Thursday night. The Lynchburg, Va., newspaper has the details.

The big names on the mound tonight are … drum roll please …
Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox) righthander Clay Buchholz, who walked four and struck out three last Sunday and is pitching at home against Lehigh Valley (Phillies)

Double-A Jacksonville’s Aaron Thompson, who’s at home against West Tenn. His season debut last Sunday featured six scoreless innings in which he struck out four and issued a walk.

High Class A San Jose lefthander Scott Barnes, on the road at Stockton. He was an eighth-round pick of the Giants last year out of St. John’s.

Low Class A Kannapolis (Rockies) Dexter Carter at Bowling Green. He is 1-0, 1.50 after striking out six and allowing a run in six innings last Saturady against Asheville.

Low Class A Great Lakes righthander Ethan Martin, who’s at home against South Bend. He struck out four in five scoreless innings in his debut last Saturday at Dayton.