This could be the year Mark Rogers lives up to the promise the Milwaukee Brewers saw in him as their first-round pick in the 2004 baseball draft.

Completely recovered from shoulder injuries that kept him out of action for three of his first six years in professional baseball, Rogers, a right-handed pitcher from Orrs Island and Mt. Ararat High, will start the season with the Huntsville (Ala.) Stars in the Double-A Southern League.

“I feel healthy,” said Rogers in a recent telephone interview. “I can honestly say every time I take the mound, every time I have a ball in my hand, I feel good. I feel comfortable throwing it and I don’t worry about my arm.”

Neither do the Brewers.

“We’re going to let him go a little bit this year and stretch him out,” said Reid Nichols, Milwaukee’s director of player development. “Hopefully, we can get him five innings every outing and be on a five-man rotation.”

After spending the previous two full seasons recovering from shoulder surgery, Rogers was held to a strict pitch count last summer while with Class A Brevard County (Fla.), compiling a 1.67 ERA in 22 starts.

Once he reached his pitch limit, Rogers often would be taken out of the game in the middle of inning. This season, there will be no such restrictions.

“We’re shooting for 75 to 80 pitches an outing,” said Nichols, a former Boston Red Sox outfielder. “I think we were keeping him to 50 pitches (per game) last season.”

Rogers, 24, spent the first two weeks of spring training in Milwaukee’s major league camp in Marysville, Ariz. During a pair of two-inning outings, he allowed a total of three hits and one unearned run with three strikeouts and two walks.

“He throws four pitches,” Nichols said. “Besides his fastball, he’s got the good curveball and he’s been working on that little cutter (and) slider.”

Rogers has thrown his fastball consistently in the range of 95-97 mph, and he has a change-up to complement it.

In two appearances since moving to Milwaukee’s minor league camp, Rogers has allowed one earned run in seven innings while averaging 51.5 pitches per outing.

“I think this spring has been outstanding for him,” Nichols said. “I can see a complete difference in his countenance. He’s upbeat.

“I think he feels like he’s got something done now. His shoulder feels good. He’s a very happy camper now.”

Rogers said he can focus entirely on his pitching and not on the health of his right shoulder for the first time since 2006.

“We’ve been working on my delivery and it’s significantly better,” he said. “It’s clean. I work on it, day in and day out. I feel I can repeat my mechanics consistently.

“I feel I’m at the point where I won’t be held back by injury. I’ll just worry about executing pitches. Everything is second nature now.”

Rogers’ medical problems began during the 2006 season when he injured his right shoulder while at Brevard County.

On Jan. 12, 2007, he had surgery to repair a torn labrum and tighten a loose ligament in his right shoulder. About 18 months later, after sitting out the 2007 season, he had surgery to remove scar tissue, which forced him to miss the 2008 season.

“The further I get away from that surgery date, the better I feel,” he said.

At Huntsville, Rogers will reunite with pitching coach John Curtis, the former Red Sox pitcher, who helped Rogers switch to a more compact delivery five years ago.

“In my personal opinion, John Curtis is one of the best pitching coaches you will find anywhere, and I’m excited to work with him again,” Rogers said. “We have good plans for what we want to accomplish this year.”

Most of all, Rogers intends to work on his consistency.

“I figure if I am healthy and consistent, then I can pitch well,” he said. “In turn, I’ll hopefully will be rewarded for that. I can only control what I can control.”

At this stage of Rogers’ career, the Brewers seem content to wait a little longer for him to get ready to move up to the top rung.

“Mark is at a point where he knows what he needs to do, so it’s just fine-tuning now,” Nichols said. “It was overhauling before. Now, it’s fine-tuning.”

 

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: pbetit@pressherald.com