Rogers emerges as formidable setup man

Second-year lefty reliever goes about his job without getting rattled

July 20th, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS -- Yankees outfielder stood frozen in the batter's box as he watched Twins lefty blow a 94.1-mph fastball by him for an inning-ending strikeout on Wednesday.

Rogers was greeted with a chorus of applause from the fans at Target Field after another scoreless eighth inning thrown by the reliable reliever. Still, his face remained stoic as he trekked back to the dugout, a near permanent facial expression according to his teammates.

"He's a little awkward sometimes," All-Star closer said. "He doesn't show a lot of emotion, but when he does, it fires me up because you know he's really into it."

Rogers, 26, has established himself as one of the premier setup relievers in just his second season. His 22 holds lead the Majors, and he has posted a 1.93 ERA in 37 1/3 innings.

Kintzler and Rogers have formed a formidable duo to anchor an otherwise inconsistent bullpen. And Rogers has accomplished that feat by not getting rattled, no matter how sticky the situation is.

But the one rare moment that Rogers displayed emotion was actually the same day his bullpen brilliance all began. On May 24 in Baltimore, Rogers unleashed an emphatic fist pump in the moments after buckling Chris Davis to end the eighth inning and help preserve a 4-3 victory.

"I think that was the propeller or the jump forward for me, that day right there," Rogers said. "The 3-2 breaker to Davis will probably stand out this season. I just rode the wave, and here we are now."

Rogers retired (strikeout) and Manny Machado (popup), but a leadoff single and a fielding error tasked him with a huge assignment against Davis. Rogers then missed with his breaking ball three times to fall behind in the count.

As Kintzler began warming, Rogers turned to the fastball. Davis watched as two heaters went by for strikes to bring the count full.

Instead of shying his away from his best pitch after a few misses, Rogers flung another bender. This time, the bat stayed on Davis' shoulder and the home-plate umpire rung him up. It remains the only big league strikeout for Rogers after falling behind 3-0.

What transpired in the moments after was just as uncommon, though. As soon as the ball hit the glove of Twins catcher Chris Gimenez, he and Rogers simultaneously punched the air. Rogers made another vigorous pumping motion as he stepped off the mound in triumph.

"That's the most emotion you are going to see him show," Gimenez said. "That's honestly how you can carry a season. This is such a game of failure that when you have something big like that happen, that can give you that little boost you need to get over the hump."

Rogers has now seen the replay of the video multiple times, as a form of jest from his teammates. However, he's had the last laugh. Since then, Rogers has allowed two runs over 23 innings, and he has thrown 19 scoreless innings altogether.

According to Fangraphs, Rogers boasts the fourth-highest Win Probability Added among AL relievers with 1.78. He sits behind Cleveland's , Boston's and Kintzler.

"He's obviously been able to put it together after that," Davis said. "Just glad I could help him get it started ... Maybe years to come, we will have some epic battles."

The at-bat against Davis served as microcosm for Rogers' breakout season. He has found a way to get out of sticky situations time and time again before handing the ball to Kintzler.

"We are not getting to the ninth inning if he's not doing his job in the eighth," Kintzler said. "I think he's the most valuable piece we have down there."

Rogers has posted a left-on-base percentage of 90.2 this season, the highest mark at any point in his career, despite striking out less. Rogers' strikeout percentage of 17.9 is down from last year's 24.2. His walk percentage (6.0 percent) is also very similar to his 6.1 clip last year.

A large reason for his vast improvement is his ability to induce soft contact. Per Statcast™, 13.28 percent of Rogers' pitches have led to poor contact, which is the 25th-best mark (minimum of 500 pitches) in all of baseball. As a result, Rogers' BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .264 is lower than its ever been in his professional career.

But most of all, it's a credit to Rogers trusting his breaking ball, which changes speeds, and showing a fastball that has a lot of late movement. He's been able to go from situational reliever to budding bullpen star -- practically overnight -- by learning the tendencies of hitters. 

"If nobody notices me, then I'm doing my job," Rogers said. "Come in, put up my zero, see you tomorrow. That's what I want to do, I don't need to be flashy or anything like that. That's why I like my role."