Detroit Tigers’ Jake Rogers on facing Verlander: ‘My name will always … be tied to his’

Detroit Free Press

ST. LOUIS — Finally, Jake Rogers and Justin Verlander played in the same game.

Verlander, one of the best pitchers in baseball for nearly two decades, has taken the mound five times against the Detroit Tigers — his team for more than a dozen seasons — since the Aug. 31, 2017, trade sent him to the Houston Astros in exchange for three prospects. He faced his old team twice in 2018, twice in 2019 and once in 2023.

It took a while, but for the first time, Verlander matched up Thursday against one of the three players from the trade. He pitched five innings, allowing back-to-back home runs in the first inning, in the Tigers’ 2-0 win over the New York Mets at Comerica Park.

“It’s awesome,” Rogers said before Thursday’s game. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome. It’s not like, ‘Oh my god, I get to face J.V.,’ but it’s really cool. He’s an incredible talent. My name will always kind of be tied to his. I don’t hate that at all. It’s going to be fun.”

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Rogers, a defense-first catcher then in the minors, joined the Tigers’ organization on Aug. 31, 2017, as Verlander joined the Astros.

The Tigers also received right-hander Franklin Pérez — considered the prize of the deal — and outfielder Daz Cameron in the trade, now considered fairly lopsided in favor of Houston. All three of them were top-15 prospects in the Astros’ farm system, but only one of them currently plays in the major leagues.

Pérez, who remains in the organization, still hasn’t pitched above the High-A level due to a multitude of arm injuries; Cameron plays at the Triple-A level for the Baltimore Orioles after he was designated for assignment by the Tigers this past offseason.

The trade, obviously, didn’t work out for the Tigers; what does Verlander think about that?

“Nothing,” Verlander said Tuesday in the visitor’s clubhouse at Comerica Park. “That’s a baseball decision. I mean, that has nothing to do with me.”

Well, Rogers is the last man standing.

No pressure, right?

“I don’t think about it,” Rogers said. “I just be me. I can see how pressure could build, but being traded for him, it is what it is. I’m a player. He’s a player. It’s the same thing. I’m just going to be who I am.”

From 2017-22 with the Astros, Verlander posted a 61-19 record with a 2.26 ERA and 825 strikeouts across 652 innings in 102 games. He also won the 2017 and 2022 World Series plus the 2019 and 2022 American League Cy Young awards.

He missed most of the 2020 season and the entire 2021 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

“It was very difficult,” Verlander said of the 2017 trade. “I think people very easily tend to forget that it’s not just a baseball decision. I had 12 or 13 years of my life invested in this city, in this town. This was my home. As a baseball decision, I thought it was very easy. The writing was on the wall, going from a team that was going in one direction to one that was going in a different (direction) and had World Series aspirations. That wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was uprooting my family.”

Rogers, who missed the 2022 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, has played 93 games in his MLB career, hitting .184 with 13 home runs, 32 walks and 119 strikeouts. In 2023, the 28-year-old has a .189 batting average with three homers, eight walks and 22 strikeouts in 20 games.

Defense — from game-calling to throwing out runners and everything in between — is his specialty. He has started 16 games behind the plate in 2023 and is already worth plus-5 defensive runs saved.

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In Thursday’s game, Rogers finished 0-for-2 with two strikeouts against Verlander.

He struck out swinging on elevated fastballs in both plate appearances.

“He’s good,” Rogers said. “Tip the cap to him.”

But Rogers helped the Tigers beat Verlander (and the Mets) with his defense. First, he guided left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez through eight scoreless innings with nine strikeouts. He called cutters and fastballs in the first two innings before changeups entered the pitch mix in the third inning.

“It’s been good so far,” Rodriguez said. “We’re throwing the ball right where we want to, and that’s building a lot of confidence between us. He knows what I want to throw, too, so it’s been really good.”

Rogers also eliminated two runners trying to steal second base: Tommy Pham to end the second inning and Brandon Nimmo for the second out in the ninth inning. He ended the sixth inning with a catch in foul territory.

The first-ever matchup between Rogers and Verlander didn’t go as planned, considering the two strikeouts, but Rogers subtly impacted other areas of the game. It’s an example of how Rogers can win games for the Tigers in more ways than one, even if the Tigers lost the trade.

“He’s a Hall of Fame talent,” Rogers said of Verlander. “The day that (trade) happened, it was a crazy whirlwind of emotions, but ever since then, it’s like, ‘Hey, you got traded for Verlander.’ It’s just part of my name now, and I’m cool with it.”

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

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