Thursday, December 5, 2013
By DON COULTER Special to the Press Herald
CHICAGO – The last month has been something of a rush for Maine native Mark Rogers.
ROGERS' RANKINGS IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE
• Strikeouts Per Nine Innings Among National League Starters In 2012 (Minimum 30 innings)
Stephen Strasberg Nationals 11.33
Matt Harvery Mets 10.75
Mark Rogers Brewers 9.62*
Gio Gonzalez Nationals 9.49
Tim Lincecum Giants 9.24
• Average Fastball Velocity Among National League Starters In 2012 (Minimum 30 innings)
Stephen Strasberg Nationals 95.8 MPH
Jeff Samardzjia Cubs 95.0 MPH
Matt Harvey Mets 94.3 MPH
Jordan Zimmerman Nationals 93.7 MPH
Mark Rogers Brewers 93.6 MPH
FOR MORE statistics, information and videos of Mark Rogers, click here.
Since the Milwaukee Brewers promoted him from the minor leagues on July 28, Rogers has earned his first two victories as a major-league pitcher -- and made stops in three states in four days so he could be with his wife, Kerrie, when she gave birth to their first child (7 pounds, 20 inches) on Aug. 13.
"Crazy, right?" the Orrs Island native said with a huge smile.
Mom and daughter -- Ellyette Bay Rogers -- are healthy, he's pleased to report. And so is Mark Rogers. Now 26, he hasn't been able to say that often during a pro baseball career that's been derailed by two surgeries on his right shoulder and surgery on his wrists.
Now the 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-hander is starting to realize his much-anticipated potential. He ranks in the top 10 in the National League in strikeouts per nine innings (9.62) and average fastball velocity (93.6 mph), on the same list with proven stars such as Stephen Strasburg and Tim Lincecum.
"I feel really good," he said Monday in the visitors' dugout at Wrigley Field before the Brewers opened a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs. "I still feel strong. We're almost in September now, but I feel better now than I did at the beginning of the season. That's exciting for me."
In 2004, Rogers was the fifth player selected in Major League Baseball's amateur draft. No Maine high school player had ever been drafted in the first round -- and none has since.
But while others who were taken in that year's first round have become stars (Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers was voted the American League's Most Valuable Player last season), Rogers has toiled mostly in the minor leagues -- when he's been able to throw a baseball at all.
"It has to be very difficult for a player like him when he sees others in the same draft class pitching in the big leagues," said Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin, who drafted Rogers out of Mount Ararat High School in Topsham. "He's had to work hard through it. I think it's all paid off now."
In six starts for Milwaukee this summer, Rogers has a 2-1 record and a 4.28 earned run average. He has struck out 36 batters while allowing 12 walks in 33 and two-thirds innings. Opponents are batting just .244 against him.
In his most recent appearance, Sunday in Pittsburgh, Rogers threw five shutout innings, hit a double and scored a run to help lead the Brewers to a 7-0 win over the Pirates. But it was a struggle.
Rogers threw 91 pitches through four innings and walked the leadoff batter in the fifth inning on four pitches before settling down to earn the victory.
"(Rogers') biggest hurdle is minimizing the pitch count, getting ahead of guys," said Jonathan Lucroy, who has been the catcher in all of Rogers' starts this season. "When he's able to do that, he's gonna be real special. He's really working hard at it. He's getting better every time we go out there."
But what impresses Lucroy -- and the Brewers' front office -- about Rogers is something that can't be taught: throwing heat. The average velocity of Rogers' fastball is 93.6 mph -- in the top five among National League starting pitchers this season.
"When you're hitting mid-90s, for a starter, that's a pretty special thing," Lucroy said. "Not a lot of guys can do that."
Rogers doesn't lack for confidence in his approach.
"Until somebody proves to me they're going to hit a fastball, be on my pitches, I really don't want to throw my third- or fourth-best pitch up there," Rogers said. "As long as I can stay mechanically the way I know I can be, it's just a matter of trusting my stuff."
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