The Pacific Coast League season ended emphatically for the Sacramento River Cats on Labor Day and Tyler Rogers was visiting his brother, Taylor, in Minneapolis a few days later during a Twins homestand.
The Rogers brothers are identical twins, with a heavy emphasis on identical, other than the fact Tyler is a righthander throwing from a submarine delivery, and Taylor is a lefthander who stays tall on the mound.
Tyler was in the Bat and Barrel, a bar/restaurant on Target Field’s club level, enjoying a Budweiser Light — the official beer (preferably in a blue can) of the Rogers twins.
As game time approached, more and more ticket holders hanging out in that ballpark saloon started to glance at Tyler, wondering why an important Twins pitcher was drinking beer rather than preparing for the traditional walk of relievers to the bullpen.
“Yes, that happened,” Taylor said. “Tyler was getting a lot of questions. He had to explain that we’re twins.”
Taylor pitched one game for the Twins in April 2016, was replaced on the roster by Fernando Abad and then returned on May 18. He has been in the big leagues since — 209 appearances that far surpass any Twins pitcher in what’s now his fourth season.
Brother Tyler has not yet received a big-league shot from the San Francisco Giants. Taylor is not easily rankled, but that fact rankles him: “Tyler has to be the only two-time Triple-A All-Star pitcher that hasn’t gotten a call-up,” Taylor said. “I don’t understand it.”
Meantime, Taylor Rogers has become a rarity in recent Twins history: a pitcher who is the focal point of the bullpen and does not serve as the closer. Rogers has three of the Twins’ 10 saves, but righthander Blake Parker has six, and he now seems to be Plan A in the ninth.
This was one of the popular doubts about the Twins in spring training: “They don’t have a closer.”
Actually, if these had been the Twins of years past, when a main priority was establishing a closer, they had one: Taylor Rogers.
The Twins had a previous version of Rogers — Glen Perkins — in this decade, and turned him into a closer in 2012. So, they had a three-time All-Star (2013-15) to lock down the ninth for teams that lost 96, 98, 92 and 79 games.
It’s also difficult to forget the closer paranoia that caused the Twins to trade rising catcher Wilson Ramos in 2010 to Washington for Matt Capps, who at his best was a 10% upgrade over Jon Rauch.
That paranoia doesn’t exist in Baseball 2019, at least not in Minnesota.
The Twins’ No. 1 bullpen weapon is Rogers, and using him for scoreless half-innings earlier — perhaps against the heart of a lineup — can carry more weight than the ninth.
When was the last time the Twins had a non-closer who was the main man in the bullpen? Perhaps J.C. Romero in 2002, the season when the Twins started a streak of six division titles in nine years and with an ultra-strong bullpen.
Closer Eddie Guardado had a hellacious season, with 45 saves, 68 appearances, 67⅔ innings and a 2.93 ERA. But Romero, also lefthanded, had 81 appearances (second in the AL), 81 innings and a 1.89 ERA.
And now comes Rogers, 28, and coming off a 2018 season that started poorly (8.44 ERA in April), and ended with 28 scoreless appearances from July 30 to the end of the schedule. He gave up 10 hits and three walks in 26 innings, with 29 strikeouts.
This phenomenal stretch was lost as the Twins’ brainiacs traded off assets in celebration of their non-contending status.
The scoreless streak ended at 30 games when he gave up a home run to Kansas City’s Adalberto Mondesi on April 2. For the first month in 2019, his ERA was 1.98 in 12 appearances.
Quite a difference from one April to the next?
“Not really,” Rogers said. “Throwing the same. A couple of bad outings last April got the ERA way up there. I didn’t change anything from early in the season to the start of the scoreless streak.”
Pause. “Except for the slider,” he said.
That’s like Jack Morris saying except for the forkball. Former pitching coach Garvin Alston encouraged Rogers to feature the slider over the curve.
That’s the pitch Rogers has used to get under righthanded hitter’s hands, right?
“That’s correct,” he said.
Which is the manner in which the Twins now use their No. 1 bullpen weapon: correctly. When needed the most to get three outs nearer to the finish line.