This was supposed to be the breakthrough spring for Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mark Rogers.
Instead, spring training has been a cruel reminder that you’re only as good as your last start.
The 27-year-old right-hander, a 2004 first-round draft pick whose career has been derailed five times by injuries, came into camp feeling better than ever and with high hopes of earning one of the three open spots in the Brewers’ starting rotation behind right-handers Yovanni Gallardo and Marco Estrada.
But few things have gone according to plan since Rogers reported to Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix in early February.
In three spring training starts, Rogers is 0-1 with a 7.50 earned-run average. In six innings, he’s allowed eight hits and five earned runs (10 runs total), has walked 10 and struck out only one and has given up a home run. And that doesn’t include a two-inning early-morning outing against Team Canada in which he walked four.
As if the command issues weren’t enough, Rogers’ velocity is down.
All of it adds up to a very uncomfortable position for Brewers manager Ron Roenicke because the young man rated the top prospect in the Brewers’ organization in 2011 is out of minor-league options.
And that limits the Brewers’ options. To be able to send Rogers to the minor leagues, the Brewers would have to place him on waivers — and risk having him claimed by another team. Or, if the velocity doesn’t improve, the Brewers could place him on the disabled list.
Heading into the last two weeks of spring training, Roenicke and Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz are focused on trying to get Rogers — the pitcher Roenicke has said “has electric stuff” and tremendous potential — back on track.
“We’ve talked to him and want to figure out what’s the next step to get him back to the guy we saw last September,” Roenicke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week. “The biggest thing is let’s get him right. We want to get him right.”
Rogers made his major-league debut in 2010 when he was called up in September and pitched in four games, including two starts. Impressive in that sneak peek — he didn’t allow a hit in his first 9⅓ innings — Rogers hit yet another roadblock in 2011 with two stints on the disabled list, a 25-game suspension after a second positive test for a banned stimulant and surgery on his right wrist (for carpal tunnel syndrome) that August.
Healthy in 2012, Rogers pitched a combined 134⅓ innings between Class AAA Nashville and Milwaukee. He was called up July 28 after Milwaukee traded Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels and made seven starts for the Brewers before being shut down for the final month of the season as a precautionary move to limit his innings pitched. In those seven starts, Rogers went 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA, allowing 36 hits and 17 earned runs in 39 innings with 14 walks and 41 strikeouts. He won his last three starts and allowed just one run and eight hits in 10⅓ innings in his last two starts.
“Proving to myself that I could pitch (at the major-league level) was very important,” Rogers said during an interview in Milwaukee Jan. 27. “It helped me prepare (for 2013) and know a little bit more what I need to do to win games and be successful at the major-league level.”
But with Rogers’ struggles this spring, Roenicke also is considering moving Rogers to the bullpen in the hope of getting him squared away. That’s a role Rogers would prefer to avoid — at least in the long term.
“To be honest with you, I’ve started my entire career and that’s what I see myself as,” Rogers said earlier.
But Rogers is realistic enough to know that you have to get the job done.
“It ultimately comes down to getting people out,” Rogers said. “My first priority is to make sure I take care of my business and if I do that, the rest will take care of itself.”