MILWAUKEE — Mark Rogers has had plenty of seasons end or fail to begin at all because of injuries.
It’s hard to blame the right-hander for being a bit agitated when the Brewers decided to shut him down following his Aug. 31 start last season. With his team in the playoff race, Rogers wanted to keep contributing to the cause. It’s also hard to disagree with the decision the team made.
Its former prized prospect was finally healthy and pitching well at the big league level. The Brewers saw no need to risk it all and push his innings past 134 1/3 after he tossed just 44 the year before.
“I wanted to pitch, that’s for sure,” said Rogers, 27. “I definitely wanted to pitch. I also appreciate them understanding my history and wanting me to be 100 percent prepared for this season. I’ve taken that very seriously, and I want to make sure I am 100 percent ready to rock and roll this season.”
Called up on July 29 to replace the traded Zack Greinke in Milwaukee’s rotation, Rogers was getting what in all likelihood was his last shot. The fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Rogers has long battled injury and suspension, finding his name moving more toward the bust category as each year passed.
He tore his labrum in his shoulder in 2006 and didn’t throw another pitch until 2009. Scar tissue build-up required another surgery in 2007, and he sat out all of 2008 to rehab. Rogers returned to the field in 2009 and had a good season in Single-A and spent most of 2010 having success in Double-A.
In big league camp in 2011, Rogers was in the running for the fill-in rotation spot after Greinke cracked his rib playing basketball during spring training. Instead of a promising year, 2011 quickly turned into disaster and caused many to write him off for good. A shoulder injury ended any shot Rogers had at making the Brewers’ rotation and then a wrist injury limited him to just 15 games in the minor leagues, including posting a 13.50 ERA in five games in Triple-A.
On Aug. 19, 2011, Rogers announced he was having carpal tunnel surgery on his wrist, but that wasn’t the only announcement made that day. Major League Baseball said Rogers had tested positive for a banned stimulant and was suspended for 25 games.
Though the substance was not a performance-enhancing drug, Rogers admitted he made a mistake and took a supplement that wasn’t approved. After serving his suspension, he returned to find some struggles in Triple-A in 2012. At the time of his call-up, Rogers had a 4.72 ERA in 18 starts for the Nashville Sounds, but the Brewers gave him one more chance anyway.
In seven starts for the Brewers, Rogers went 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA and had a couple of starts in which he flashed incredible stuff. Despite being in the thick of the wild-card race, the Brewers kept Rogers on a strict innings limit and let him feeling good about himself for a change. This offseason, there was no injury to rehab, just work to be done.
“I was able to focus on total body stuff,” Rogers said. “Every day (I had) just a normal routine of getting stronger, getting better, getting physically prepared for a long major league season. I can’t tell you, mentally as well, not having to deal with an injury one way or another, waking up every day going to the yard knowing that I was healthy and I was going to improve every day (was great).”
Rogers worked out in Arizona knowing he could pitch at the big league level. There were times in his career where his confidence waned, but Rogers now had motivation to take his game to a new level.
“Proving to myself that I could pitch there was as important as anything,” Rogers said. “I’ve always believed if I was healthy I could pitch in the big leagues, but to be able to go there and actually do it is an entirely different thing.
“To have some innings under my belt and some starts under my belt that went well is encouraging. It helped me prepare and know what I needed to do to win games at the major league level.”
Rogers will head to spring training as one of five pitchers competing for four spots in Milwaukee’s rotation. The key for the right-hander will be the ability to command his pitches consistently. When his command was on last season, Rogers showed the pure stuff to dominate big league hitters. However, when it was off, he struggled to make it out of the fifth inning.
If a pitcher makes 30 starts in a season, he will say he felt great in around 10 of them. It’s the other 20 Rogers has been focusing on, trying to win games when he doesn’t have his best stuff.
“That’s the ultimate goal, to be able to command all of your pitches and hit the glove,” Rogers said. “There’s some days you do and some days you don’t. I think the mark of a good pitcher is somebody that can pitch on days where you don’t have your best stuff. I feel like it’s easy on the days you are hitting the glove and throwing four pitches at the glove, but those days are few and far between. Most days you are fighting, you’re battling, and you are trying to put six or seven quality innings together to win a ballgame for your team.”
A dilemma the Brewers could face is what to do with Rogers if he is beat out in camp. He is the only pitcher competing for the rotation who is out of minor league options. Rogers has to make the big league club in one way or another because he’d most certainly be scooped up off waivers if the Brewers tried to designate him for assignment.
That could mean coming out of the bullpen, something Rogers has never done and would prefer not to do.
“I honestly haven’t thought about coming out of the bullpen,” Rogers said. “In 2010 when I was a September call-up, I got a couple innings in relief. To be honest with you, I’ve started my whole career. I feel like that’s what I am is a starting pitcher. In my mind that hasn’t changed.
“It’s definitely a different situation than the other guys are in because I’m out of options, but ultimately it comes down to getting people out. None of that option stuff matters if you are giving up runs and not sending people back to their dugouts. That’s the first goal is to make sure I take care of my business, and the rest will take care of itself.”