When Jeff Francis returned from the disabled list a year ago, the Rockies made room on the roster by bumping Esmil Rogers off of it, casting his career into seeming peril. Rogers had signed with the Rockies in 2003 at age 17. Suddenly, the only organization he had ever known no longer wanted him.
Funny, how life goes round in baseball sometimes. Rogers survived the move and as fate would have it, he and Vancouver's Francis (2-4, 5.87) are scheduled to face each other as starters for the Blue Jays and Rockies, respectively, at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night.
Rogers (2-2, 3.21), of Santo Domingo, began pitching professionally as a starter in 2006, worked his way through the minor-league system, broke into the majors in 2009 and got his shot in Colorado's rotation in 2011. But much as some players can handle the pressure of playing in New York and some cannot, some pitchers make peace with mile-high Coors Field and some are bedevilled by its thin air and spacious grounds. Falling behind hitters in the balls-and-strikes count, Rogers got clobbered inside Coors in his six home starts, allowing 44 hits in 24-2/3 innings for a 1-3 record and 11.68 ERA.
Last season, the Rockies moved him into the bullpen to exploit his power arm and early on, then-manager Jim Tracy praised him for becoming a more aggressive pitcher. Come June though, after Rogers allowed the Angels three runs in less than an inning, the dreaded summons arrived.
He was done with the Rockies, designated for assignment.
"I was surprised," said Rogers, now 27. "I was crying a little bit because you don't know if you are going to get an opportunity in baseball again. That's why I say, I am grateful the Blue Jays gave this opportunity to me, and I don't want that to happen again."
Within five days, Rogers found himself in a Cleveland uniform, sold for cash. During the off-season, the Jays flipped utility infielder Mike Aviles, the player received from Boston for letting former manager John Farrell out of his contract, to the Indians in a trade for him.
Rogers made the roster as a long man in the bullpen out of spring training. With injuries giving him another chance in the rotation, he's made three starts of late, building endurance as he goes. The Blue Jays, with six consecutive wins and a 20-12 record since May 11, are climbing back into the playoff picture. With Rogers doing his part to stabilize the rotation, the pitching staff overall has held opponents to a 1.98 earned run average over a 13-game stretch.
He is coming off a seven-inning, one-run victory over Texas – achieved on June 13, a year to the day from his 2012 debut with Cleveland. In total, he's allowed two runs in 14-1/3 combined innings against Atlanta (one start) and Texas (two).
An affable, good-humoured personality, Rogers holds no bitterness about being cast off by Colorado. "I appreciate everything they do for me," he said, on Monday. "They gave me an opportunity to play baseball, and that is why I am here. I think sometimes you have to get out from your house to get better. … If I [had remained with the Rockies] maybe I don't grow, like I am right now."
He talked Monday with his best friend on the Rockies, Juan Nicasio, who is scheduled to start Wednesday's game. Two seasons ago, in August of 2011, Nicasio broke his neck when hit by a line drive and Rogers was the only player allowed to visit him in hospital. Rogers kept the family updated, and later visited him daily at his apartment. "He is like my brother," Nicasio said Monday.
Watching Rogers on television recently, Nicasio noticed Rogers had become more confident with his fastball. "Very aggressive," Nicasio praised. "With this team, he threw a lot of balls. When the count is 2-1, 3-2, it is tough."
Asked about starting, Rogers says, "Love it." How long he will remain in the rotation is in question, though, as Brandon Morrow began a rehabilitation assignment at Single-A Dunedin on Monday night (two innings, five hits, three runs) and Chien-Ming Wang impressed manager John Gibbons in two starts since being signed out of the Yankees organization.
Either way, he's opened some eyes.