An 11th Round draft pick by the New York Yankees in 2015, Josh Rogers was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in the Zach Britton deal in 2018, and he debuted in the majors with the Orioles that year and pitched for the O’s again in 2019, before he suffered a torn UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery in July of that year.
Rogers didn’t pitch in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign, and after just four appearances at Triple-A in the Orioles’ system this season he was released.
Given all that he’s been through in the past few years, you can understand the excitement and joy he expressed on the mound in Nationals Park on Saturday, in the dugout with new teammates, and in his post game Zoom call with reporters. Rogers smiled through it all as he helped the Nationals snap a seven-game losing streak with a 5 2⁄3-inning outing in the club’s 4-3 win.
Was there a point in the past few years that he wasn’t sure if he would be back in the majors again?
“Yeah,” Rogers answered quickly.
“I had surgery — in ‘19 I was in the big leagues with the Orioles, and they just kind of — and I got released this year. I got released after four outings coming off Tommy John.
“It was very humbling, I was home for a couple days and searching. I was thinking maybe I have to get a job, a real job, and I’m just super grateful for the Nats to give me this opportunity, just to pitch in Triple-A. They called and said I could be a starter in Triple-A, and I knew it was going to be a grind, and I was going to have to earn my way here, and like I said, caught some momentum, but it was definitely — there were a lot of low points in this whole thing, with the COVID year, passing of my grandfather, I was out, I was rehabbing at home, me and my dad played catch in the front yard like I was 12 years old, like I’m like a big league rehabber and I’m playing catch with my dad in the front yard. So, I’m super-pumped to be here in Washington, and it’s fun.”
You could tell he was enjoying (and in his words “feeling himself a little bit”) on the mound with a good deal of twitchiness and swaying in his fairly, uh, unique delivery.
“I just started that this year,” Rogers explained, as a way to just give hitters a different look and, hopefully mess with their timing. “I mean, you watch so many guys — like it’s just the same thing, it’s a set, it’s a turn, and it’s a throw. And hitting is just timing. So I’m just trying to do everything I can to get some momentum, get some flow out there I guess, and just go from there. So I just started this year — I changed a little bit in my delivery, I anchor my foot before so I’m not like square, and just that like swaying motion back and forth, I don’t know, I’m just kind of feeling myself a little bit I guess, and it’s been working out so I’m going to keep doing it.”
Rogers, as noted, smiled throughout the evening, and was still beaming when he talked with reporters after the win.
“I mean, I’m just grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “I just put so much work in, so much preparation to get here. I lost my grandfather back in July, July 13th, and he was my biggest fan, my biggest supporter, so it was super tough, I was super-emotional just a few minutes ago seeing my family here.
“My grandmother’s here, it just means the world to me, and I know he’s watching down on me and he was with me tonight.”
Rogers had a large-ish contingent of family and friends in attendance in Nationals Park to see his return to the majors.
“I left like 20 tickets tonight, so that was fun,” he said. He also gave a shout-out to (the seemingly) one member of his family who couldn’t make the trip.
“My sister was the maid of honor in a wedding, she’s sick she couldn’t be here tonight, so shout-out to Haley, I never give Haley a shout-out, so I got to give Haley a shout-out,” Rogers said.
He worked with a fastball (60%) which hit 93 MPH but sat around 90, and with which he got seven swinging and eight called strikes, a changeup (21%), and slider (21%), while throwing one curveball. What did he think of his stuff in the outing?
“Yeah, I mean, my command tonight wasn’t — what I’m good at is commanding the fastball, and I got into deep counts there in that third inning I think it was, 3-0 to [Pete] Alonso, 3-0 to the next hitter, and that’s not my game at all,” Rogers said. “I got to pitch ahead in the count, so honestly, my slider wasn’t great tonight, I was just grinding out there, competing, just trying to give it my all, but I had a ball. Like I said, I had so much fun and to get a win for this team it’s pretty fun.”
High-fiving teammates after hits and cheering them on from the dugout, was definitely a bit different from your average major league starter, which is fine with Rogers.
“That’s not me,” he said. “I’m not the guy that’s going to be sitting there like locked in and zoned in, and some people take it like maybe I’m not serious enough, and maybe I don’t know, but that’s just not how I am. I want to be involved in the team, I love to win. Period. I love to win. I love to compete, and I’m not going to win the game by myself, so why wouldn’t I be hyping my teammates up when they hit a home run? I know some guys don’t do that, and that’s fine, but I’m a little different, I’m a different kind of starting pitcher. I like to be vocal in the dugout, I like to have fun, I like to talk to the guys on the field, I’m just literally — I’m like a big kid, man, I’m just having fun.”
How does his effusiveness go over with teammates?
“I think they think I’m probably pretty crazy in there,” Rogers said. “They call me Loco, that’s crazy in English. So, I think they think I’m pretty nuts, but that’s fine, like I said, I just want to try to have a good time and try to turn up out there.”
His manager liked what he saw.
“He worked really, really quick, I love that,” Davey Martinez said after the game.
“He was getting the ball, getting on the mound, and he was ready to go again. And he threw strikes, he threw strikes when he had to, so he gave the team some energy tonight.”
Asked if he thought Rogers’ teammates were aware of his personal history, and the battle he fought to get back to the big leagues, Martinez said, “No, I’m sure they don’t.
“But those guys that were with him in Triple-A appreciate him, and they said he’s fun to be around and he loves the game, he really does, he loves competing.”
Martinez wouldn’t commit to giving the lefty another start in his post game Zoom call on Saturday. “We’ll talk about that tomorrow.”
On Saturday night, the Nationals returned Rogers, who was the 29th man for the Nats’ and Mets’ doubleheader, to Triple-A, but on Sunday, they announced they recalled him.
So will he get another start?
“I got a few days to sit down and map things out, but you know, I talked a lot about — and I watched some of the game this morning, about his tempo,” Martinez said.
“I loved his tempo, man, he was on the mound ready to go every pitch, and he was engaged and it was a lot of fun to see someone work that fast, it was kind of nice. So we’ll see what happens. I foresee him starting again and getting a start his next time out, but we’ll see how he feels today and we’ll go from there.”