Growing up a pitcher from Atlanta, Brian Rogers used to idolize John Smoltz, the long-time Braves ace who has asserted his dominance on the mound as both a starter and a closer. But Brian is pushing for a very un-Smoltz-like career, one without time in the spotlight, without throwing a game's first pitch or being called on in the ninth to pick up a save. Rogers' goal is to become a successful set-up man in the Majors.
Though not many players yearn for such a low-profile job, one with more possibilities for failure than for publicity, Rogers understands his own situation and remains realistic about his future. "If I do make the majors, it will be in the bullpen," he says, adding that his reliance on two main pitches makes him a better fit in a reliever's role.
Brian has become the go-to guy in a bullpen that started the season with much hope but has yet been able to meet expectations. He attributes the group's early struggles to the individuals' inability to find their "rhythm," but is confident that they will be able to turn things around.
"We have a very versatile bullpen. Other than closer, we really don't have any situational pitchers. Anybody can come in the game in any situation."
After first seeing his switch from starter to reliever during the 2005 season as a demotion, Rogers has come to embrace his new roll. "I feel like I'm more a part of the team, and I get to dress everyday, so I like that."
The switch has forced Rogers to change around his approach to the game. He has had to learn how to get ready much faster, not having the benefit of pitching after comfortable pre-game warm-ups. The biggest difference that he's come across is the importance of having a plan before he gets to the mound. "You have to know the situation when you go out there, and you need to know what you are going to do." This has been especially important for Rogers as he's been called on to pitch the SeaWolves out of tough jams.
Despite not being a power pitcher, Rogers has been able to make this switch because of his ability to place his pitches. "Control is everything in my game," he says. "I'm not like [Toledo starter Humberto] Sanchez or [Erie reliever Eulogio] De La Cruz. If they miss a spot, they throw it fast enough that it doesn't matter—they can still throw it by the batter."
According to his critics, Rogers' biggest problem is his lack of velocity, which leads him to rely on unique throwing mechanics to fool hitters. The young pitcher doesn't agree with these assessments of his game, noting that despite not being able to throw as hard as other stars in the Tigers' organization, he has consistently been reaching between 88 and 93 mph on the radar gun since the end of last season.
Rogers understands that there are many things he must work on if he wants to prove his doubters wrong. First, he must continue to throw early strikes and get ahead in the count. "If I get ahead of a batter, there's more room to work with. I can throw a ball outside and still be even with him. Also, batters tend to get more aggressive when they're down, and I can use that against them."
His biggest concern at the moment is his change-up. He is still not confident enough to use it consistently—he has only thrown a handful of them all season—and believes that the development of that pitch could have a lot to do with his chances of bringing his game to the next level.
As Brian Rogers has gained more and more attention in the organization, he is now hoping for a September call-up so he can prove himself on a larger stage. And in order for him to reach his goal of becoming a Major League set-up man, he must keep his aim, both on the mound and in his expectations, in check.