‘I’m itching’: Tigers’ Jake Rogers healthy, ready to reclaim his role behind the plate

Detroit News

Detroit — Willson Contreras to the Cardinals — five years, $87.5 million.

Christian Vazquez to the Twins — three years, $30 million.

Sean Murphy to the Braves — nine-player, three-team trade.

You can see what the Tigers have been up against this offseason in terms of upgrading the catcher position at the big-league level.

“The surplus of talented catchers out there is very thin,” Tigers president Scott Harris said last week at the Winter Meetings. “It’s really hard to find a stable Major League catching duo. There are a lot of teams out there searching for that.”

Which is at least partly why Harris and the Tigers have, for now, turned their focus inward.

“I think we have two catchers who have a chance to stay with us for a while,” Harris said.

The last time Eric Haase and Jake Rogers shared the catching duties for the Tigers happened to coincide with the winningest stretch of baseball the club had enjoyed in three years. From May 8 to July 18, 2021, the Tigers went 34-27.

Haase hit 13 homers and slugged .521 in that stretch. Rogers, before tearing his UCL and undergoing Tommy John surgery, hit six home runs, had a 120 OPS-plus and had taken charge of a young pitching staff.

“I always evaluated Jake and Eric from afar and I actually think they do different things well,” Harris said. “I think they complement each other well. I am really pleased Jake is going to be healthy and we can get the two working together in Lakeland.”

Almost certainly, Harris will add another veteran catcher to the mix. Maybe the cards will fall right and he can swing a trade for a talented backup catcher whose playing time is blocked in his current organization — like Danny Jansen in Toronto.

But that, it seems, is far down Harris’ priority list for now. The Tigers are going to give Rogers a shot to show he’s healthy and ready to resume his place.

“It’s not going to be given to me,” Rogers said on Tuesday, just finishing up his workout at the TMI Sports Medicine Complex in Arlington, Texas. “I’m going to have to earn it. I talked to AJ (Hinch, manager). I told him, ‘Man, I want to prove it to you guys. I want to win that job and go north.’

“But, really, I am just excited to get going and be with the guys. Wherever I’m at — and I hope it is Detroit; that’s the plan — I am just excited to get going.”

It’s been almost 15 full months since Dallas-based surgeon Dr. Keith Meister reconstructed the ulnar collateral ligament in Rogers’ right elbow. He has not played an inning of competitive baseball, not faced a single live pitch, since then.

“I’m itching, man,” he said. “I’m about as 100%-feeling good as I’ve ever been throughout this whole process. I’m just excited to get back.”

Rogers is on pace to start spring training on time and with no restrictions. That’s the best news. He’s been working out four days a week. He’s on a strict throwing program written up by the Tigers’ development department, but he’s throwing lasers out to 120 feet.

“I’m pretty much full-go,” he said. “I feel pretty good. Definitely not perfect. It feels like something is in my arm. But I’ve got a bionic arm now and it feels incredible, to be completely honest with you. I’m throwing out to 120 feet and hitting ‘em in the chest.”

He’s been hitting soft-toss and some overhand throws in the batting cage. He’s caught bullpens. He’s been put through a battery of drills by Tigers catching coordinator Ryan Sienko. He plans to be in Lakeland early in January, finish his throwing program by the end of that month and then hit the ground running when pitchers and catchers report.

Thing is, though, if Rogers had his way, all that would have been done last September and he would’ve gotten in some live action — any live action — before the season ended. He fought hard for that.

“I was like, ‘I really want to get back and play,’” he said. “I’ve never been on the IL at all. This was my first time ever being on a short- or long-term IL and after a few months, I just missed being with the guys. I missed being around the team.

“I pride myself on being a good guy, you know, and trying to bring good vibes to the team. I just miss that aspect of the game. I missed being part of a team and playing the game we all love.”

There were some tough conversations with Hinch and others.

“I was being selfish,” Rogers said. “Just in the aspect of saying, ‘Let’s push it, let’s push it; let me go back.’”

Finally, as Rogers explained it, an executive decision was reached.

“Just hit the brakes,” he said. “Don’t rush back just to play a couple of weeks at the end of the season. It really would’ve been nice to get some at-bats, for sure. But that was the decision. Let’s just get this right and get ready for 2023 and come in running and fighting for a job.

“I think we made a good decision.”

Of the endless storylines that will emerge this spring, the re-integration of Rogers behind the plate will be critical. He is the last surviving piece of the Tigers’ get-back from the Houston Astros for Justin Verlander in 2017 and he was on the verge — with his athleticism behind the plate, his ability to control the running game and his steadily improving offense — of stamping himself as the club’s everyday catcher before the injury.

The Tigers are banking on Rogers getting quickly back on that track.

“I am really excited about this year,” he said. “There’s been a lot of staff changes and talking with a lot of the guys, everyone just seems hungry. It’s all good vibes. Can’t wait.”


Articles You May Like

Tigers Sign Ryan Vilade To Minor League Deal
Kyle Leppelmeier – Head Groundskeeper of the Year
Grand Slam Generosity: Donate to the Whitecaps Community Foundation today for #GivingTuesday
Tigers Re-Sign Garrett Hill
Tigers Seeking Additional Pitching After Maeda Deal

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *