TigsTown Q&A: Tiger starter Kenny Rogers

Scout.com's Jerry Beach recently spoke to Kenny Rogers during the Tigers' series at Fenway Park. In this wide-ranging Q&A, Rogers discusses the success of veteran pitchers such as himself, how he approaches his mentor role with the Tigers' young pitchers, his definition of dominance and the challenges of getting older.

TigsTown: Why do you think so many pitchers are performing so well in their late 30s and early 40s?

Kenny Rogers: I think it's like most things: The more experience you get, usually you get a little better at it or you can minimize the mistakes that you make, because you've already made them before. You try not to make them anymore. When you talk with you guys, hopefully there's stuff you can impart to them that keeps them from making the same ones or as many [mistakes] as you did.

But we're all going to fail. Young or old, we're still going to fail. But we're going to try to minimize those failures as much as possible, either through experiencing it in the past or just small little adjustments that you make. Whatever you learn from your past, hopefully [it'll] keep you from continuing to do it in the future.

TT: Mike Timlin of the Red Sox said that when he was a rookie, he received very little in the way of "mentoring" from veterans because they were worried he was going to take their job. How about you? Did you ever run into a situation like that in Texas and how have things changed between veterans and rookies over the years?

KR: I never felt that way. Even when I was younger in Texas, [he] never felt like guys held back anything. That's just the way I was brought up and taught. Guys gave me advice and gave me encouragement or just [the] knowledge of trying something different. And the only thing I was good at was listening and trying those things.

For me, these guys hear a lot about multiple different things. And probably 80 percent—or more—will never be an issue. But if a couple things stick with them and help them out in their future, it's a benefit. And I think that's for our young guys here. These guys are open to suggestions, but they know I don't search out giving advice at all because I think when you're speaking to someone, you want to make sure they're open to it but [that] they're also listening intently because they want to try something different and evolve as a pitcher or a player or whatever. So these guys listen. They try things. They're not scared to go out there and try something new, even between those white lines, which is a very difficult thing to do because it's not your normal comfort zone. And young guys here have been very good at going out there and continuing [to have] success, but also making small adjustments at a younger age. And that's something that not everybody is able to do.

These guys have tremendous stuff, but the drawback is they don't really know how to use it or how to repeat it as many times as possible. I can only speak for pitching, as a pitcher. I learned the hard way: What I'm trying to do is duplicate those same pitches as many time as possible in the right zones and minimize any kind of mistake on my location.

As a young guy, you don't think that way [laughs]. You think throw the heck out of it and overpower hitters more so than you do to pitch your way through a game. And that's normal, because you feel like you're bulletproof. As a veteran guy, for me, I don't feel bulletproof at all. So I think it's a difficult thing for a young pitcher to rein yourself in. But as an experienced player, you're much more comfortable doing that because you know the benefits are way more conducive to me being successful [if] I can repeat what I'm trying to do under pressure or in situations that [are] very difficult to concentrate through.

TT: Curt Schilling talked recently about how difficult it is for him that he can no longer dominate in the late innings and serve as his own closer. What, for you, is the most challenging part of getting older?

KR: I think dominant is a double-edged word. The young guys, if you think the word dominant, you're going to think throwing hard and just great stuff. As an older pitcher, dominance to me is handling a lineup through the whole game with your location and your movement and your stuff but not overpowering. That's dominance too. But it's not as appealing for everyone. Doing it for the whole game, it is more difficult nowadays, by far, especially when you're older. Fatigue [is an issue], probably more so than [for] a young kid. But that's probably enough reason why older pitchers try and pitch more than throw because we know that the wall comes up a little quicker than it used to.

But it's difficult. I don't care what age you are. Against these kind of lineups, it's difficult to continually keep getting guys out over a nine-inning game. You can't do it the same way. You have to re-invent yourself, even in the middle of a game sometimes. And nowadays, offenses are so potent [and] the strike zone is so small, you don't have any room for error. It's not easy and there's a very small margin for error for any age, whatever experience level.

TT: Do you find yourself hitting the wall earlier during the season as well?

KR: Everybody goes through periods of time where they don't feel as good—they're struggling, whatever you want to call it. Everyone goes through down time. If you're not, you've got the Cy Young, probably, already. It's something inevitable. You're going to have your slow times. You want to call it fatigue, whatever it is. Sometimes it's just poor pitching or just not getting away with your mistakes that you were getting away with beforehand. These things get magnified when you're in a little bit of a slump.

TT: When you struggle, do you find that people automatically assume it's age-related?

KR: Some years, you're going to have portions of a year—whether it's at the end or in the middle or the start—where you struggle. Yeah, I guess when you're older and you get tired, you can struggle a little bit more. Makes it a little bit more difficult. But a young guy, he can get fatigued just as quickly because he's not used to the grind of that long season. I'm saying it happens to everybody. Yeah, you wish you could miss that every time, but that's just part of it. The season is so long, it's hard to get through unscathed.

Even though I'm sure they tell me I'm struggling in the second half, a few years ago [in 2004], I won 18. Last year, won, what, 14 or something like that? I'll take that every time. I don't care if it's front, middle or the end. Over the whole period of time, that's what you've got to look at more so than others. I pitched in Texas and played there for a while. Everyday players, they have periods of time for a month where they struggle too. More at the end of the year, because they're so drained from the hot [weather] and the physical exertion everyday. You want to do well, but it's difficult against these quality of teams to continue to do it, day in and day out, for the whole season. That's a lot of games. No different as a pitcher. You just try to get in the mindset: Minimize the length of your slumps, maximize your good ones. But always know that you're going to have slow times inevitably in a season and you've got to learn from that one too and minimize it the next time you go through it, because you're going to have it again.

Jerry Beach covers the Boston Red Sox for Scout.com's Diehard Magazine and www.diehardmagazine.com. He can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com.


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