DETROIT -- Jake Rogers and Jake Fraley have a rivalry going back to their college days at Tulane and LSU, respectively.
“Old Jake, man,” Rogers said with a laugh after Fraley’s game-saving catch for the Mariners on Wednesday. “I’ve played against him a long time.”
So maybe it’s fitting that one day after Fraley was the hero at Comerica Park, Rogers took the role, partly at Fraley’s expense.
It wasn’t just Rogers' second home run in as many games, or his first triple, but his all-around play that helped lift the Tigers to an 8-3 win on Thursday in the rubber match of their three-game series. In the process, he continued to make his case to stick in the big leagues.
“I love the story as it is right now,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “It'll get better if he can continue this. He can't get too comfortable.”
Hinch won’t let that happen to Rogers. Amidst the praise, he also pointed out that he neglected to cover first base on a play. It didn’t make a difference, but it’s the attention to detail that Hinch has emphasized.
Such is the challenge of playing for a former catcher. Hinch warned him about it as soon as he took the Tigers job last fall. Rogers welcomed the chance to get better. So far, the relationship has made Rogers a better player and put him back into Detroit’s long-term picture.
It’s a long way from last summer, when Rogers was left at the alternate training site for the abbreviated season, even when Detroit needed catching help late in the year.
“I think not getting called up last year was an eye-opening experience for him, just being passed over,” Hinch said. “As a player, you have to take that personal and then take it into account on what you need to do to make yourself better or be open to change.”
Hinch’s arrival was a challenge, but it was also a fresh set of eyes. Rogers competed in Spring Training for the backup catching job but lost out to Grayson Greiner.
Both Rogers and Eric Haase began the season at Triple-A Toledo but were promoted out of necessity. Haase has been on a hitting tear with eight home runs. Rogers, meanwhile, has quietly made his case that he’s more than the defensive half of this platoon.
After Rogers crushed a 423-foot home run to right-center field late Wednesday night, he followed Thursday with a 413-foot loft shot over Fraley’s head and into the seats behind the bullpens. It completed a seven-pitch battle in which Rogers declined to chase a 2-2 fastball up and out of the strike zone and was ready for a full-count slider down and in.
Nowhere was the friendly competitiveness between Rogers and Fraley more apparent than on the basepaths. Fraley stole second base on Rogers in the eighth inning of a tie game Wednesday, but Rogers gained his revenge by catching a Gregory Soto pitch off the backstop and throwing out Fraley at third.
The rivalry continued Thursday. Fraley singled in the fourth and immediately prepared to run. Rogers tried to backpick him at first base, but Fraley stole second on the next pitch.
Fraley went on to score on a Jake Bauers groundout, but Rogers atoned in the bottom of the inning once he reached base on an error. Willi Castro’s fly ball to left was deep enough to score Niko Goodrum from third, but didn’t seem enough for Rogers to advance.
“I knew it was going to be caught,” Rogers said, “so as soon as he hit it out there, I went back to first and took off as hard as I can.”
It wasn’t personal, Rogers said, just a reflection of team aggressiveness.
“You can take extra bases in this park more than most, but you have to have the mentality,” Hinch said. “You have to be prepared to do it.”
Rogers was still in a running mood when he slugged a Yacksel Ríos pitch to straightaway center in the sixth. The 423-foot drive hit the wall and bounced past center fielder Taylor Trammell as Daz Cameron scored from third.
“I didn’t even see it, I was trying to run so hard,” Rogers said.
Rogers’ two-hit, two-RBI, two-run performance raised his average to .250, his OPS to .835. If Rogers can maintain that with standout defense, he can make his claim to stay along with Haase, who started in left field Thursday.
“Defensively, he's been as advertised, but has been better than maybe his previous stance with some of the attention to detail,” Hinch said. “On the flip side, he knows if he produces offensively, he's going to get a little bit more opportunity.”