Lakeland, Fla. — Jake Rogers, wearing a cowboy hat as he sat in the clubhouse Sunday morning, didn’t need to look up the date.
“July 18, 2021,” he said.
That was the last time he caught in a competitive baseball game. He doubled in four at-bats that day, while helping Wily Peralta, Buck Farmer and Alex Lange stitch nine innings of shutout ball in a 7-0 win over the Twins at Comerica Park.
His start behind the plate Sunday in a Grapefruit League game against the Orioles was his first in 588 days, his first since recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“Been a while,” he said. “I’m excited. I went into AJ (Hinch’s) office this morning and I was like, ‘I’m glad you put me in the nine-hole. That’s my home.’”
To which Hinch said, “He doesn’t have a choice. When you stop hitting you become a manager. Then you can set the lineup (laughter).”
The Rogers-Hinch banter has been among the many things that we’ve missed the last 19 months. Rogers’ energy behind the plate is another. He caught five innings in the Tigers’ 10-6 exhibition loss, capping his day by hitting an opposite-field home run on an 0-2 pitch.
“It was just overall nerves,” he said. “Just being back. But it was definitely good nerves. It was exciting being back and being in a uniform.”
BOX SCORE: Spring training: Orioles 10, Tigers 6
The homer came in the bottom of the fifth inning, after he’d sat behind the plate for the Orioles’ nine-run barrage in the top of the inning.
“We won’t talk about that,” Rogers said, laughing.
He came to bat against former Tigers’ right-hander Reed Garrett, who quickly painted the outside corner with two four-seam fastballs, both 96 mph.
“He tried to sneak it by me again,” Rogers said. “It hit the barrel. Felt great.”
Garrett’s 0-2 pitch was 96.7 mph and it was actually off the plate, up and away. Impressive that Rogers got to it, clubbing it into the Tigers’ bullpen in right.
“It was just nice to see him playing freely,” Hinch said. “That was the same guy I remember.”
Rogers was using a PitchCom and pitch timer for the first time in actual competition. There was one violation, it came in that fifth inning against Jace Fry. There was a technical malfunction when reliever Chasen Shreve was on the mound, but they remedied that by calling pitches the old-fashioned way, with the fingers.
“AJ said, ‘Hey how are you feeling,’ and I was like, ‘I’m going a million miles and hour,'” Rogers said. “He said we probably set a record for how those innings were going.”
Starter Eduardo Rodriguez blew threw his two innings in 23 pitches, 19 strikes, 15 fastballs. Shreve needed just 15 pitches. Rony Garcia used only 12 pitches to get through the fourth, nine strikes.
“He was calling the right pitches and the timing was good,” said Rodriguez. “He was just a perfect catcher to be out there with me. He was really good today.”
“I’m just ready to go,” Rogers said. “I told AJ I was just so excited, ready to get into the box and get the juices flowing again.”
So, what was with the cowboy hat?
“It was a little scoreboard (picture) thing they were doing with cowboy hats,” said Rogers, who grew up in the Texas Panhandle town of Canyon, near Amarillo. “They didn’t know what to do with them afterward, so they gave them to me.”
Around the horn
Nick Maton and Matt Vierling, two of the players the Tigers acquired from the Phillies for Gregory Soto and Kody Clemens, made successful spring debuts Sunday. Maton homered on his first swing, slamming a 1-0 cutter from Orioles starter Dean Kremer over the wall in right field. Then in the fifth, Vierling launched a low-inside splitter from Garrett and banged it off the foul pole in right.
…It was a tough outing for non-roster lefty Jace Fry. He faced seven hitters in the fifth, recorded just one out, getting charged with six runs.
… Gabe Alvarez, who manages the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate at Erie, is coaching third base for at least the first half of the Grapefruit League season. Gary Jones, who will coach third for the Tigers this season, is still recovering from an offseason knee procedure.
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