If the recent results are any indication, Esmil Rogers seems to have grown rather fond of his new role in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation.
Rogers entered the season as a middle reliever with the expectation of throwing one inning — possibly two max — at any given time. With what seemed like a full complement of arms ready in the event of injuries, there wasn’t a need for the fifth-year pitcher to be any more than that.
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All of that changed by late May, though, and all of a sudden Rogers was pressed into an emergency starter role and the results have been nearly flawless ever since. Rogers was back at it again on Tuesday night as he didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning of Toronto’s 8-3 victory over the Rockies at Rogers Centre, extending the Blue Jays’ winning streak to seven games.
“There was a lot of thought that went into it, but in a lot of ways, too, it was some desperation, no question,” Blue Hank Conger Angels Jersey Jays manager John Gibbons said of deciding to give Rogers a starting role. “He had done it before, he was all for it and he said he’d love to do it.
“I think he thrives on that and I think that’s actually what he wants to do. So we just kind of built him up, let him run with it and he’s been tremendous, he really has.”
Rogers’ first shot at starting in a Blue Jays’ uniform came on May 29 in Atlanta. Toronto was attempting to get by without the services of injured starters Josh Johnson and J.A. Happ while Ricky Romero was stuck in the Minor Leagues following a period of prolonged struggles on the mound.
To make matters worse, right-hander Brandon Morrow had been forced to leave an outing the day before after just two innings because of a sore right forearm. There were very few options at the club’s disposal and as a result Rogers received an opportunity to make the transition from the bullpen.
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Since then, the performance has gotten better with each start. His first outing was just 3 1/3 innings, the next one just four. But by the time Rogers took the mound in Texas on June 13 he was appropriately stretched out and ready to assume a full workload.
Overall, Rogers has been everything the Blue Jays could have hoped for and more. He has allowed just four earned runs over his 21 innings as a starter while surrendering only 15 hits and striking out 16.
“His sinker, I think, is the biggest difference,” Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia said of the recently added pitch. “Earlier guys could jump on his fastball — he had a straight fastball — and now he’s sinking it so you really have to respect that. He can sink a right-hander in and then they have to respect that and now he’s throwing 96-mph fastballs down and away to strike them out.”
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Rogers has been down this road before. He came up through the Minor Leagues as a starter and made 21 appearances with the Rockies in that role from 2010-11. But the numbers were far from impressive with an ERA well over five and it wasn’t long before he was designated for assignment by Colorado.
The Dominican native went to the Indians before eventually joining the Blue Jays in an offseason deal for utilityman Mike Aviles. It was a whirlwind kind of year for Rogers, but he seems to be settling into his new home.
Rogers had an opportunity for revenge against his former club on Tuesday night and didn’t disappoint. He didn’t allow a hit until Jonathan Herrera recorded a sharp single with one out in the sixth inning. Rogers went on to surrender a pair of runs in the seventh before departing to a standing ovation from the 22,852 fans in attendance at Rogers Centre.
“My confidence, I think that’s been the key,” Rogers said. “The confidence Gibbons and Pete [Walker] give to me right now is unbelievable. The confidence when I’m the mound, I didn’t have it in Colorado, I’m not going to lie to you. I have unbelievable confidence right now. I can throw any pitch in any count whenever I want.”
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The Blue Jays got all the runs they needed against the Rockies during the first inning. Edwin Encarnacion and Arencibia both had RBI doubles while Adam Lind and Rajai Davis recorded RBI singles during the four-run frame against Colorado lefty Jeff Francis.
The production continued later in the game as Encarnacion hit a two-run shot in the fifth while Arencibia and Maicer Izturis had back-to-back solo shots in the sixth. It marked the first time this season the Blue Jays recorded homers in consecutive plate appearances.
All eight runs were charged to Francis, who allowed 10 hits and struck out just two. The Canadian-born lefty’s ERA now sits at 6.58 and his record dropped to 2-5 on the season.
“They’ve got some good hitters in that lineup, it’s a potent lineup,” Rockies Hank Conger Jersey manager Walt Weiss said. “Some offspeed stuff up was the problem. With most of these guys it comes down to location. Some guys with the huge arms have some margin for error, but in the end it’s all about where you throw the pitch.”
The Blue Jays’ seven-game winning streak is the best they’ve had since 2008 when the club won 10 straight from Aug. 30 to Sept. 9. Toronto now finds itself just two games under .500 for the first time since April 18 and continues to dig itself out of an early deficit following an extremely poor record in April.