Detroit Tigers catcher Jake Rogers: Sharing the field with Yadier Molina ‘is an honor’

Detroit Free Press

When St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina stepped into the batter’s box in the second inning Tuesday, Detroit Tigers catcher Jake Rogers accomplished one of his childhood dreams.

“Amazing,” Rogers, 26, said after knocking in three runs during the Tigers’ 8-2 win at Comerica Park. “It was amazing. It was pretty cool to see him back there and watch him catch in real time and so close.”

Molina is a household name in the baseball world.

He is a two-time World Series champion (2006, 2011) with nine Gold Gloves (2008-15, 2018), one Silver Slugger (2013) and nine National League All-Star berths.

“He came into the box, and I was like, ‘Man, it’s good to see you. I’ve watched you so many times over the years when I was younger,'” Rogers said. “It was a pleasure to be back there with him and get to see him so up close. It was really cool, really cool. He’s one of those guys you emulate.”

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Across his 18-year MLB career, Molina has a .281 batting average, 2,048 hits, 167 home runs and 962 RBIs, with 392 doubles and 526 walks. He has played 2,007 games, plus 101 postseason games over 11 years (and 23 playoff series). 

Defensively, Molina boasts a career .995 fielding percentage and 163 defensive runs saved. He has caught 361 runners trying to steal and allowed 532 to reach safely for a 40% caught stealing rate. Even in Molina’s age-38 season, he has started all 51 of his games played at catcher.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Yadi,” said Tigers manager AJ Hinch, himself a former catcher, Wednesday morning. “I got caught last night just watching him behind the plate. I mean, he’s pretty remarkable. Not only at his age, but just in general, across the board. If you go player by player around the league, he’s doing things that young guys still can’t do. He’s kept in great shape. He’s in command of the game. You watch his glove work, you watch the way he positions his body, there’s just so many things that he does now that he was doing prior to the sport and the positive evolving. He is the marquee guy in the league, as far as what he’s accomplished throughout his career. He’s still operating at a high level and has adapted along the way.

“He’s done it all in the game. He’s a future Hall of Famer. I’m glad Jake takes notice because he’s the gold standard.”

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As Molina pens the final chapters in his career, Rogers is just getting started for the Tigers. He is unlikely to hold a lifetime .280-plus batting average like Molina. But to stay in the big leagues, Rogers must show he can hold his own defensively.

So far, Rogers has four defensive runs saved in 56 games at catcher across parts of two seasons. He owns a .996 fielding percentage and has cut down 13 runners trying to steal against him, while allowing 14 stolen bases, for a 48% caught stealing rate.

Rogers is more comfortable behind the plate than he was for 35 games in the 2019 season. His offense has improved, as well. Entering Wednesday, Rogers has a .225 batting average with three home runs, nine RBIs, six walks and 30 strikeouts in 23 games.

And belting a double and a triple with Molina behind the plate, as well as catching a win, was quite the treat for the eager-to-learn Rogers.

“To be able to even share a field with him is an honor,” Rogers said.

Miguel Cabrera is available

First baseman Miguel Cabrera left Tuesday’s game after the fourth inning with right calf tightness. Hinch said Tuesday night the 38-year-old is considered “day-to-day.” Cabrera suffered his injury in the first inning, when he slid into second base on a force out.

Hinch did not include Cabrera in Wednesday’s starting lineup but Cabrera will be available to pinch-hit in the series finale. The trainers did “some treatment” on his calf before the game, Hinch said.

“Day game after a night game, I was flirting with the idea (of resting him) anyway,” Hinch said. “I’ve had these scheduled days off for him, so we’ll see how he feels once he gets up and moving. He’s going to hit inside in the cage. I think we got him out of there on time and didn’t exaggerate the issue.”

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In Cabrera’s past 17 games, beginning June 1, the 19-year MLB veteran hit .299 (20-for-67) with four doubles, one home run, 11 RBIs, two walks and 19 strikeouts. He has a .222 batting average in 54 games.

Robbie Grossman is sick; Akil Baddoo leads off

Outfielder Robbie Grossman is 1-for-20 without a walk in his past four games.

But that’s not why Hinch decided to leave him out of Wednesday’s lineup.

“I know he hasn’t gotten a ton of hits lately, but he’s been sick,” Hinch said. “Non-COVID, just a virus going through our clubhouse. A couple of our guys have had it, a couple of our coaches have had it. He’s been feeling pretty bad the last few days. We thought the off-day (Monday) would resolve it. It’s an easy day off for him.”

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To fill Grossman’s spot, Hinch used Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo as his leadoff hitter.

Baddoo, 22, is hitting .270 with 10 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 20 RBIs, 23 walks and 53 strikeouts in 55 games. He also has a .364 on-base percentage. Since May 11, Baddoo has drawn 19 walks compared to 18 strikeouts, along with posting a .352 batting average during the 29-game stretch.

“All you ask out of players is to make adjustments along the way and give us the best version of themselves, and he continues to do that,” Hinch said about Baddoo. “I will sprinkle in a different challenge here and there … and try to make him uncomfortable. These are all growth opportunities for him. The more he responds, the more it becomes a reality.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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