NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mark Rogers is the same pitcher.

The same but different.

He is a year and a half removed from his major-league debut with the Milwaukee Brewers. With major surgery and a 25-game suspension behind him, the same pitcher has a much different outlook. 

“I’m the same guy. I think my arm hasn’t felt this good in a long time,” said Rogers, the Orrs Island native and Mt. Ararat High graduate. He was smiling as he stood next to his locker in the Triple-A Nashville Sounds’ clubhouse on Wednesday, just after his season debut for the Milwaukee Brewers farm team.

“I think the more I throw, my numbers will continue to get better. I can still reach back and let it go if I need to.”

But the 26-year-old right-hander also has grown up lately. He has taken responsibility for a recent mistake, and continues to face the sort of character-building challenges of overcoming difficult injuries with a bulldog-like approach as he has through much of his career.

DELAYING A PROMISING START

Rogers was rated the Brewers’ No. 1 prospect entering last season but battled carpal tunnel issues and had surgery on both his wrists this offseason. He made progress this spring, but he still had to serve the final eight games of a 25-game suspension from last year for testing positive for a banned stimulant, which pushed back his first start until Wednesday.

Rogers told MLB.com that he took a number of over-the-counter supplements last spring. His shoulder hurt, his wrists hurt. He would try anything to make it back to the Brewers’ roster. And he took something he shouldn’t have, though he can’t pinpoint what it was because he tried so many different supplements.

“The more you’re around this game, it matures you. I made a mistake,” Rogers said of the failed test. “But the Brewers stuck by me the whole time and I just want to get to the big leagues and help them out.”

Rogers acknowledged he didn’t exactly shine in Wednesday’s start, a three-inning, two-run performance. Oklahoma City won, 7-5.

But there were glimpses of the old Rogers, the one who got a short call-up to Milwaukee in 2010 and was the No. 5 overall pick in the June 2004 draft before his career was sidetracked by injuries.

His blazing fastball was still there, clocked in the mid-90s. Rogers allowed a solo home run in the second inning and got into a jam in the third, but kept his composure to avoid giving up a big inning.

“I was (angry) to give up the home run, of course. Nobody wants to give up a homer, but they happen,” Rogers said. “I really just want to get ahead of guys. Just throw strike one and stay ahead in the count, let my stuff do what it does and let my defense play behind me. You start putting guys on base, that’s when you’re going to get into trouble. Pound the ball in the middle of the strike zone and trust my defense.

“I just want to keep improving, you know what I mean? I came a long way this spring. I know I’m not exactly where I want to be yet, but I can see the progress, for sure. It’s definitely going in the right direction, so as long as that continues I’ll be happy.”

THAT OLD FEELING

Rogers, a pitcher accustomed to rehab work after a pair of shoulder surgeries earlier in his professional career, said rehabbing from carpal tunnel problems was “kind of crazy” by comparison.

“What was real frustrating was having the ball be in my hand and my arm felt great (but) I couldn’t feel the ball,” Rogers said. “It was as mental, I think, as it was physical, because the ball, once it’s back in your hand, you’ve just got to let it go. You let it rip.”

Now, Rogers said he is starting to feel like himself, crediting work he did with Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz and others in the Brewers organization this spring for helping get him over the psychological hurdles of his injury.

“I’m just trying to work on getting that fluidity back, getting my foot down, just simplifying my mechanics so we’re not thinking about trying to do all this stuff over the rubber and can just think about what’s going on at the plate.

“Coming back from not being able to feel the ball, you need to trust the ball coming out of your hand. I trust it now and that’s the best feeling, because last year I didn’t.”

SEEKING NORMALCY

Translating that feeling to wins, and hopefully another shot at pitching in the major is not a lost dream. It’s attainable.

“(Rogers) is a special talent. He’s got the ability,” said Nashville pitching coach Fred Dabney, who acknowledged the Brewers organization is still very high on Rogers. “You know, he’s trying to get to that point where he gets more consistent and that’s what we’re hoping happens.”

“Facing adversity in this game, all these guys will do it at some point and time. Make progress, take steps, being consistent. (Wednesday) he was a little inconsistent, but he did some good things, also. We’ve just got to be consistent with those good things.”

A year and a half after his debut in the majors, Rogers deliberated on what it will mean to get back there. For Rogers, it’s just about feeling normal again.

“Everybody wants to pitch in the big leagues. I think that’s what everybody wants to do. Right?” Rogers said.

“After my shoulder surgery, I made it up in 2010 and I don’t see any reason why it would be different now. I’m ready to get into the season and get things rolling here, get back on track, to get some normalcy back in my life.

“There were times of frustration, absolutely. I really tried never to say, ‘Why me?’ “