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'He's not scared of anybody': Orioles lefty Josh Rogers endears himself to vets as he competes for job

Josh Rogers has earned plenty of fans in his clubhouse and around the game by virtue of his reputation as the fastest-working pitcher in the Grapefruit League. And the Orioles' young left-hander has claimed that title honestly.

There might have been more talented arms brought in by the Orioles during July's teardown trades. But none has been a quicker study in endearing himself to his new teammates or embracing the nothing-to-lose attitude this team might eventually embody than Rogers, who made his first start of the spring Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

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"I think the thing I love most about him is the guy's not scared," Orioles right-hander Andrew Cashner said. "He's not scared of anybody. He challenges guys. … I've been very impressed with how he carries himself. Wants to work, wants to learn and he challenges guys.

Said Rogers: "I've always kind of been that way — I'm just going to go out there and let it happen. Whatever happens, happens, and hopefully there will be another day. Hopefully, the results are good."

For most of Rogers' career, they have been.

A draft-eligible sophomore in 2015, the New York Yankees selected him in the 11th round after he pitched two years at Louisville. It wasn't an easy transition for a left-hander who could spin the ball but topped out at 91 mph.

"Especially when I got drafted, I showed up to short-season [Staten Island] and everyone was throwing 97, 98 [mph] and I was like, 'Maybe this isn't for me,' " Rogers said. "But just to continue to post numbers and get outs in the minor leagues was the thing."

He did that at every level the Yankees assigned him, and he was surprised when he started 2018 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. But he pitched himself into the major league conversation with a 3.95 ERA in 16 starts before he came to the Orioles organization. He made five starts with a 2.08 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk before he came to the majors, pitching three times before he was shut down upon reaching his innings limit.

That time in the majors proved valuable as Rogers, 24, began to shadow the veterans, Cashner and Alex Cobb, and learning big league life.

"I think it made the difference, honestly," Rogers said. "Just coming in with a new organization, first big league camp would have been more intimidating, but having ‘Cash,’ Cobb and those guys just to kind of mess around with and kind of help me out along the way has been a huge help."

The benefits of Rogers’ company seems twofold. He is a frequent golf partner of Cobb’s and has spent plenty of time away from Ed Smith Stadium at Cashner's house. The two veteran pitchers have delighted in beating him at bumper pool, and Rogers acknowledged that part of their draw to him is "they just think I'm a moron, to be honest."

But he's using the fact that he's a good hang to try to learn as much from that pair's combined experience to his advantage.

"He really wants to learn," Cashner said. "He's asking me and Alex a lot of questions. Obviously, we're not left-handed, so we don't really excel in that category, but I think it's more challenging guys in certain counts, what you're looking for in swings.

"I talked to him [Tuesday] after he gave up that home run, and I asked him, 'Did you throw that pitch with conviction?' He said, 'Yes.' Solo homers don't beat you, so if you have conviction with every pitch, he can live and die with every pitch."

That solo home run was, to that point, the only blemish on Rogers' spring. He's pitched four times entering Sunday's start, all in relief, which is an adjustment for a lifelong starter who relies on tempo and mixes in his secondary offerings as the game goes on.

"Coming in from the bullpen, you start flipping breaking balls in there from pitch one," he said.

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He allowed just four hits with three walks and two strikeouts in his first seven innings this spring before making his first start Sunday against the Phillies. He said he felt better than his line — 3 2/3 innings of five-hit, two-run ball that included a towering home run and four strikes — and said he was at home being in the rotation. Rogers said after the game that he feels like he hasn’t earned anything, but wants the opportunity to keep showing what he can do.

He had a recent conversation with pitching coach Doug Brocail about how he's not the type of pitcher who can wow in a one-inning stint, but he's made an impression in a wide-open race to win a back-end rotation job. The field includes David Hess, Mike Wright, Jimmy Yacabonis, John Means and Yefry Ramirez.

"One inning isn't going to make you go, 'Oh man, that was awesome. That was electric.’ Yeah, it might be 11 pitches or something, but who cares?” Rogers said. “We've got guys throwing 98 by people. But just the body of work for me is the biggest thing, just getting the opportunity to show what I can do and how I can help the team win."

Manager Brandon Hyde has certainly found enough to be interested in during those short outings.

"Besides the tempo, which is unbelievable, [he's] aggressive," Hyde said. "Attacks hitters. Multiple pitches. Unpredictability in what he's going to throw. A little bit of deception. I just like the way he can throw multiple pitches for strikes and isn't afraid to attack hitters, and we'll get more looks at him as we go along."

Hyde, too, has noticed Rogers' emergence off the field. He's noted several times recently how happy he is that some of the young players are coming out of their shells as camp progresses, and Rogers certainly fits that billing.

"He's got a great personality, and it's coming out more and more every day, which is phenomenal," Hyde said. "He's funny. He likes to joke around, and I think that's awesome. I love that kind of stuff."

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