Out of MLB since '19, Rogers gets W in return

Southpaw emotional after arduous journey back from Tommy John surgery

September 5th, 2021

WASHINGTON -- The excitement exuded from his voice and the pure joy showed on his face. To say Josh Rogers enjoyed his first Major League appearance since June 25, 2019, would be an understatement.

“I had a ball tonight,” the beaming left-hander said after the Nationals’ 4-3 win over the Mets in Game 2 of Saturday’s doubleheader at Nationals Park. 

Rogers tossed 5 2/3 innings of the seven-inning nightcap while allowing four hits (one home run), three runs and three walks. He also recorded a career-high five strikeouts over 87 pitches (57 strikes). The outing came after the Nats dropped Game 1.

“What I’m good at is commanding the fastball, and I got into deep counts there in that third inning … That’s not my game at all,” Rogers, 27, said. “I’ve got to pitch ahead in the counts. Honestly, my slider wasn’t great tonight. I was just grinding out there, competing, just trying to give it my all.” 

To appreciate the significance of Rogers’ night -- from the rush of taking the mound in the first inning to the loud ovation from the home crowd while exiting in the sixth -- it is important to go back two years to the summer of 2019. Rogers had earned a spot on the Orioles’ pitching staff and had appeared in five games when he was sidelined by his second Tommy John surgery. From there, he had to overcome “a lot of low points.” 

“I was rehabbing at home,” Rogers recalled. “Me and my dad played catch in the front yard like I was 12 years old.”

A long road to recovery led him back to the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate to start the season. But four appearances later, after posting a 7.79 ERA in 17 1/3 innings, he was released by the Norfolk Tides on June 1. 

“It was very humbling,” he said. “I was home for a couple days and searching. I was thinking maybe I might have to get a job -- like, a real job. I’m just super grateful for the Nats to give me this opportunity … I knew it was going to be a grind, I was going to have to earn my way here.”

Three days after he was released, the Nationals signed Rogers to a Minor League deal. He impressed with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, where he went 7-3 and posted a 3.70 ERA in 14 games (13 starts). Rogers credits some of that success to the arrival of catcher Keibert Ruiz from the Dodgers, who helped him establish consistency. When the Nationals needed a starter for Game 2 of Saturday’s doubleheader, they felt Rogers was ready for the moment.

“He worked really, really quick. I loved that,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He kept all the guys engaged, which is nice. He threw strikes when he had to, too. He gave the team some energy tonight.”

Rogers received energy from a cheering section of 20 friends and family members, including a group of seven close friends who re-routed their pre-planned weekend trip to Rochester, N.Y., when Rogers got called up. One person who was not there, though, was Rogers’ grandfather, whom he lost on July 13.

“He was my biggest fan, my biggest supporter,” he said. “I know he’s watching down on me and he was with me tonight.” 

Those who knew of Rogers’ journey saw the hard work and perseverance pay off on Saturday, and those who are just getting familiar with his story saw raw emotion mixed with power pitching in a debut appearance. The end result was a win -- and an unwavering smile. 

“I worked so hard over the past two years to get here,” Rogers said. “I’ve overcome a lot of adversity, and I’m super excited and grateful for the opportunity to get a start here.”