Why Detroit Tigers’ Jake Rogers, returning from injury, ‘needs to be in the locker room’

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — On Monday night, Detroit Tigers right-handed pitcher Alex Faedo received a phone call from catcher Jake Rogers.

They were watching “The Bachelor” in separate homes.

Zach Shallcross, who played football at Cal Poly, is attempting to find love on ABC’s reality dating show. During Monday’s episode, Shallcross eliminated a woman from contention because he learned about “ulterior motives” regarding her alleged thirst for Instagram followers.

“He was arguing with someone about it, so he had to call me to be an arbitrator,” Faedo said. “We talk a lot. Rog is one of my closest friends in the whole world. What I love about him is he shoots it straight, and I think he expects me to do the same thing with him.”

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The juicy conversation between Rogers and Faedo about who should — and shouldn’t — get the rose is one example of something much more important. Here’s a less dramatic example: When Riley Greene fractured his foot in last year’s spring training, he trusted Rogers to drive his stylish Ford F-150 Raptor and chauffeur him around town, and Rogers didn’t hesitate to help his teammate amid a devastating injury.

It’s all about team camaraderie.

“He is a glue guy,” Faedo said. “He needs to be in the locker room.”

Rogers, who turns 28 in April, has spent most of his time in Lakeland, home of the Tigers’ spring training facility, since undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2021. Over the past 17 months, he has forged key relationships with minor leaguers and rehabbing big leaguers.

Those connections will help Rogers and the Tigers in 2023.

“A big thing for playing better baseball is being a good teammate” Rogers said, referencing his bond with starting catcher Eric Haase. “We like to keep things light, and our humor meshes really well. We played pretty good baseball for that stretch. We had a good time, and I’m ready to get back, play baseball and have fun again.”

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Rogers has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. This spring, he is battling for a spot on the Opening Day roster and seems like the frontrunner to be the backup catcher in competition with 26-year-old Donny Sands and 31-year-old Andrew Knapp.

Assuming Rogers wins the job, he must perform to expectations this season if he wants to maintain his status as a big-league catcher. That’s because the Tigers have younger catchers — Sands, Mario Feliciano, Dillon Dingler and Josh Crouch — at the upper levels of the minor leagues.

“It’s definitely a big year for me,” Rogers said. “Hopefully, I can hit the ground running and prove to people I can stay up there and stick.”

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When Rogers felt healthy, the Tigers were clicking on all cylinders. The tandem of Haase and Rogers — from May 8 through July 18 — guided the 2021 Tigers to an impressive 22-16 record and sparked a season-long turnaround.

Rogers hit .239 with five doubles, three triples, six home runs, 11 walks and 46 strikeouts in 38 games. Just as his stock was rising, he suffered an arm injury, failed a rehab assignment and had elbow surgery. He hasn’t played professionally since July 2021.

“It was my time, which sounds weird to say,” Rogers said. “I went through that. As soon as it happened, I was like, ‘What could I have done better?’ There were a few days where I was wondering, ‘What was it?’ I’m not quite sure. I said in my head, ‘You know what, it might have just been my time.’ Overuse and too many bullets.”

It didn’t take long for Rogers to bounce back mentally.

He couldn’t throw a baseball, but he could develop his receiving and blocking skills, so that’s what he did with Ryan Sienko — the Tigers’ director of coaching, field coordinator and catching coordinator — in Lakeland. He also caught bullpens for rehabbing pitchers during the 2022 season.

Rogers worked on his swing, too.

“There’s always little things I thought I could get better at, like getting to a more balanced point, getting on plane quicker and staying on plane longer,” Rogers said. “The swing is going to be very similar. It’s the same. But I worked on little things to get me in a better position to hit.”

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Still, Rogers is waiting for his first live game. The Tigers considered sending him on a rehab assignment toward the end of the 2022 campaign, but after evaluating his throwing arm, the organization decided he wasn’t ready. He has taken live batting practice against pitchers for the past four weeks and has thrown to all three bases for the past three weeks.

For Tuesday’s workout, Rogers shaved his beard and returned to his signature Hulk Hogan-like mustache. He purchased a new trimmer Monday night, and his facial hair looks like its 2021 version again.

Now, he wants to prove he can play like his 2021 version again.

“Behind the plate, I’ve never seen anything like him before,” Faedo said. “He plays with a swag and a demeanor that you wouldn’t expect from him. He was throwing to the bases the other day. We were catching him — Matt (Manning) and me — at second base. He was putting everything on the money and doing trick throws. It was like, ‘He’s back.’ You could tell.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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