Anaheim, Calif. — It’s not like the power component wasn’t part of Jake Rogers’ offensive profile.
Shoot, it wasn’t long ago that the power was the only positive component of his hitting profile. He hit 18 homers in Low-A and High-A in 2017, 17 with Double-A Erie in 2018. In 2021, he brought a 27-degree launch angle to the big leagues and tried to yank everything out of the park.
All that got him was a low batting average, a low on-base percentage and a high, untenable strikeout rate.
As he matured and worked to become more proficient and consistent at the plate, the power lay dormant.
It’s awoken this season.
Rogers slugged a pair of home runs Sunday — Nos. 18 and 19 on the season — and knocked in four, leading the Tigers to a 5-3 win and series sweep over the Angels.
“I’m just glad to be back and healthy and playing every day — that was the main goal,” said Rogers, who has come back from Tommy John surgery. “I just want to go up there and hit the ball hard and put together productive at-bats. I’m proud of myself for doing it. Hopefully we can keep mowing these last two weeks.”
The Tigers have won four in a row and are within nine games of .500 (70-79). It’s the first time the Tigers have swept a series in Anaheim since 1993.
“We’re playing hard to the end, and that really matters,” manager AJ Hinch said. “We’re tired of losing. We’re tired of not being in the mix. We’re watching different teams celebrate. We’re watching teams start to prepare for October. If we want to be that team, we have to play hard to the finish line.
“I’m super proud of our guys for coming in here and taking care of business.”
Both of Rogers homers came off lefty Kenny Rosenberg in successive innings. He got a lazy changeup with one out and nobody on in the second inning and put a charge into it. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 107 mph and carried 399 feet into the left-field seats.
He came up with two runners on in the third and ambushed a first-pitch fastball. That one left his bat at 100.9 mph and cleared just cleared the right-field wall, 373 feet, and staked the Tigers to a 5-0 lead.
“Jake crushes left-handed pitching and his power has been real,” Hinch said. “He’s really confident against lefties and he’s doing damage. You look up there and you’re approaching 20 homers at this time of the year with the limited at-bats he’s had — meaning not 500 or 600 at-bats — that means he’s doing damage when he gets in there.”
Rogers has hit his 19 dingers in 337 plate appearances and is slugging well over .500 against left-handed pitching. He and Carson Kelly both had big series behind the plate, as well, helping Tigers’ pitchers get 42 strikeouts in the three games.
“We had a lot of guys do well and on the pitching side it’s because we got to leverage,” Hinch said. “We’ve talked for six months, since spring, that leverage matters. We’re trying to get to two strikes and then exploit. Our pitchers are doing that.
“Pitching with a lead helps. We had a lead in all three games. And Jake and Carson have been pretty creative back there. That helps, too.”
Both teams deployed bullpen games for this one.
After Miguel Diaz opened with a scoreless first, lefty Joey Wentz provided 4.1 solid innings of bulk relief. It was an encouraging performance, coming off a ragged start against the Reds (five runs, two earned in 2.2 innings).
His attack plan was different, the shape of this curveball was different and his command on all his pitches was vastly improved. He ended up with seven strikeouts, six with the curveball. The curveball had a little more spin and a lot more vertical bite.
“That curve is a great pitch for him,” Rogers said. “It’s one of his best pitches, in my opinion, when he lands it. That’s what he needs to do — land it. When he lands it early, he can get chase later in the count. Landing that pitch opens up everything else for him.”
Wentz got five swings-and-misses with it, which helped keep the Angels hitters off his fastball, which has been a problem pitch for him this season. With the Angels honoring his secondary pitches, Wentz got eight called strikes with his fastball.
“It buys me more room for error if I’m able to land spin, the curveball specifically,” Wentz said. “I didn’t think my changeup was very good, but I put a couple over the plate. Rog called it good. Overall, I thought it was pretty good.”
The one pitch Wentz would probably like back is the changeup he threw Randal Grichuk with one out and one on in the sixth. Grichuk slugged it 390 feet into the bullpens in left field. The homer cut the Tigers’ lead to two runs and ended Wentz’s day.
“I hate that it ended the way it did,” Hinch said. “That was a tough at-bat, two-run homer to his toughest matchup. We tried to stretch him as much as we could going into Los Angeles with a bullpen start on Tuesday. That one is going to frustrate him, but it’s not going to frustrate us.
“This was a step forward for him. I hope he takes it as a positive.”
Jose Cisnero struck out a pair and Tyler Holton got four straight outs. Jason Foley got the last two outs of the eighth inning and passed the baton off to Alex Lange.
After Lange gave up two home runs in the bottom of the ninth and blew his fifth save opportunity Saturday night, manager AJ Hinch said he would not hesitate to go right back to him on Sunday.
“He’s always going to go back out there,” Hinch said. “We believe in him and we’ve always believed in him. One hiccup last night doesn’t change his role or our belief in him. I trust Alex. I trust him after a good day and I certainly trust him after a bad day.”
Lange responded with a clean ninth inning, earning his 24th save. On Saturday, Lefty-swinging Brett Phillips tied the game with a two-strike homer, hitting a fastball from Lange. This time, Lange punched him out, looking at that same four-seam fastball.
“I just pulled it yesterday and he put a good swing on a bad pitch,” Lange said. “I just had to come out and execute. I love the pitch call. I executed the pitch and it worked out in my favor this time.”
Rogers had no hesitation going back to the heater.
“No, I knew for a fact he was sitting soft,” Rogers said. “He put it down and away. Right on the corner. Even if he was looking for the heater, that was a great pitch.”