For Orioles pitching prospect Josh Rogers, it was all about the journey, and that turned out to be the problem.
Rogers, who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk last week and is one of the pitchers likely to follow probable “opener” Jimmy Yacabonis in Wednesday’s series finale against the Oakland Athletics, said that he has struggled through the early months of the minor league season because he was too focused on earning a trip back to the big leagues.
“I think that could have been it,” he said, “putting some extra added pressure on myself I didn’t need to. At the end of the day, I shouldn’t have been pitching to get called up. I should have been pitching to get guys out wherever I was at. I think I kind of fell into that trap a little bit.”
The 24-year-old left-hander has had a handful of major league appearances since he was acquired from the Yankees as part of the Zack Britton deal last July. He pitched well in two of three starts late last season, but was not impressive in a spot start at the big league level in early April.
When he was sent back to Norfolk after that, all he could think about was getting another chance, and everything he did on the mound until recently argued against it. Something must have clicked because it isn’t often a pitcher gets a promotion while his minor league ERA starts with an 8 (8.51).
“”It sounded like he was pressing early in the year,’’ manager Brandon Hyde said. “Maybe trying too hard. I think he settled in a little bit, but I think we’re going off a little bit of what we saw in spring training, too, and where we are organizationally, where we don’t have a ton of guys on our roster that are throwing the ball great and can give us a ton of innings.”
That’s not exactly high praise, but Rogers did flash some ability at the major league level last year and made a good impression with his up-tempo approach on the mound this spring.
“It’s a pretty cool thing for him to get this opportunity without dominating Triple-A,’’ Hyde said. “It is what it is. Both Luis [Ortiz] and him both didn’t have very good numbers in Triple-A and they got the big leagues. That’s not the ideal situation, but it’s the situation that we’re in and hopefully he turns it up while he’s here.”
That’s what it’s going to take to stick around, as Rogers is well aware.
“I haven’t really been throwing the ball well,” Rogers said. “Just trying to find the rhythm. Trying to get into things. My last two outings down there have been pretty good. I had a little bit of momentum getting called back up here. Felt mentally a lot better and the stuff has been a little bit better.”
Rogers has leaned on some major league mentors. Orioles right-hander Andrew Cashner took him under his wing after he arrived here last year and has kept an eye on him from afar.
“It was really tough for a month and a half — a six-start stretch where I was really struggling,” Rogers said. “I talked to a lot of people. I talked to Cash. I talked to [Yankees reliever] Chad Green. I talked to a bunch of different guys to try to find something. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it was me.
“I wasn’t doing really anything wrong. I watched video. I watched all kinds of stuff. It was a little big more mental than I thought. It was the first time I really struggled in my career. All through the minor league system I’ve been pretty successful at every level. Even in the International League last year, I had a real good year.”
To his credit, he didn’t make excuses, though there probably were a few available.
“This year is a little bit different,” he said. “I know they did change the ball, but my numbers were astronomically different. It wasn’t because of the baseball. It was just the quality of my pitches weren’t good and I just didn’t get the job done. I’m happy where I’m at right now and I want to continue to keep getting better.”
There was speculation that Rogers would get another start Wednesday, but manager Brandon Hyde said Tuesday that Yacabonis probably will start and Rogers would be used to eat some innings if he were not needed in Tuesday night’s game.
He made a good recent impression when he came on to pitch the last 4 1/3 innings in Friday’s game against the Red Sox and hopes he can stick around to more of that.
“I’m just happy to get back up here and have the opportunity to mentally be ready at any time was kind of my goal this season, knowing I have options and how things kind of go up and down, up and down when you do have those options,’’ he said. “Just to come up here and to try to contribute and help this ballclub in any way I can is kind of my mentality.”