Rogers helps Skubal, Tigers beat former roommate

August 5th, 2023

DETROIT -- The Tigers had never beaten Aaron Civale in 10 matchups against him with Cleveland. It took a performance from an almost-former Tiger to topple Civale in his Rays debut.

The Tigers were close enough to a deal before Tuesday’s Trade Deadline that they had Triple-A Toledo catcher Donny Sands on standby in Pittsburgh, ready to join the team. had received a heads-up from his agent that his name was in play. So while he prepared to catch good friend Matt Manning Tuesday night against the Pirates, he also had to be prepared for a quick exit, joining the uncertainty of a Tigers clubhouse in which Eduardo Rodriguez was weighing a trade to the Dodgers.

“It was kind of one of those days,” Rogers said the next day. “I’ve been traded at the Deadline before.”

Since what was admittedly a strange Deadline day for a lot of players in the Tigers clubhouse, Rogers hit a pinch-hit home run in Wednesday’s win at Pittsburgh, then put up more RBIs in his first two at-bats against Civale on Saturday than anyone else in that clubhouse has in their career, driving in three runs while catching through a strong performance in a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay.

“I’ve known Civale since college; he was my roommate in the Cape Cod League,” Rogers said. “I’ve faced him a lot and caught him a lot throughout the years.”

Rogers was 1-for-5 with a double in two previous matchups against Civale, his teammate on the 2015 Hyannis Harbor Hawks, but hadn’t seen him in two years. Rogers missed all of last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and Civale’s standout year with the Guardians hadn’t included a matchup against Detroit.

Civale entered the game 7-0 with a 2.06 ERA in 10 career starts against the Tigers, having allowed just 40 hits over 65 2/3 innings.

But from the outset Saturday, the Tigers made Civale work. Manuel Margot’s diving catch robbed Riley Greene of a hit and thwarted a first-inning opportunity. Civale was a strike away from ending another threat in the second following back-to-back singles to begin the inning. Akil Baddoo and Zack Short both struck out on fastballs at the top of the zone, then Civale fed Rogers four fastballs at or above the top of the zone with two outs and runners on first and second.

“I knew I was going to get a fair share of four-seams at the top,” Rogers said. “That’s kind of my book right now. I was just trying to be ready for the four-seam and look for the cutter late.”

The 92 mph heater Rogers chased for strike two was up and out of the zone. The 93 mph fastball on a full count was right at the top. Rogers sent a ground ball through the left side of an infield that had tormented Tigers hitters Friday, scoring Miguel Cabrera to tie the game at 1-1.

“Jake comes through with the base hit and the entire [dugout exhaled],” manager A.J. Hinch said. “You just feel really good about your position, and you start settling in and ... some of the anxiousness that comes with these games at this level for these young guys, it just goes away.”

Rogers took a more aggressive approach against Civale two innings later with one out and runners on second and third. Civale left a sinker over the plate, and Rogers lined a double to left-center, scoring two.

Not only had Rogers powered the Tigers in front, he’d given them their second multi-run lead off Civale -- ever. Last time, Cleveland scored eight unanswered runs. This time, Skubal took over.

The Rays rank third among AL teams with a .265 average and .778 OPS against lefties. But by mixing in curveballs and changeups to keep Tampa Bay’s dangerous right-handed hitters off his fastball, Skubal held them to one unearned run on six singles over 5 1/3 innings.

“You have to have everything,” Skubal said. “You have to be able to execute some pitches. I think [Rogers] stuck with me even when I wasn’t executing pitches, and kept calling them, kept calling them until I got there. …

“In between innings, he’s like, ‘Hey, stick with me, we’ll get there.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, keep calling it, and eventually, hopefully I get there.’ If I was missing arm-side and down, he’d set up a little bit to my glove side and give me a high glove, like, ‘Throw it here and it’ll end up where you want it.’

“I thought he did a great job back there today. I always think he does a great job.”