Taylor Rogers threw two scoreless innings in the Twins’ 4-1 victory over Cleveland on Saturday, hitting 97.4 miles per hour, holding the Indians to one hit and looking every bit the late-inning neutralizer the Twins want him to be.
On Sunday, Rogers was asked to shut down the Indians once again, this time in the 10th inning of a 4-4 game. Single, four-pitch walk, bunt single. Grand slam. Indians win. Rogers’ fastball averaged 96.2 mph on Saturday and 94.7 mph on Sunday. His control was off and he was brutally honest when asked if he had his good stuff.
“Probably not,” he said. “Obviously, the results say no.”
Losing three of four to the Indians dropped the Twins, who in June led the AL Central by 11½ games, into a first-place tie with Cleveland. And when Carlos Santana hit another winning home run Monday against Boston, the Twins fell to second place for the first time since April 20.
Rogers, meanwhile, is looking to bounce back from being unable to bounce back. The Twins closer has not been sharp when pitching with no rest.
Pitching consecutive days is part of a reliever’s life, and there are times when closers are asked to pitch more than two consecutive days. It should not be surprising if a pitcher’s velocity drops when pitching on back-to-back games, but the good ones get the same results. Rogers moved into the conversation as one of the game’s better lefthanded relievers at the end of last season, but this season he has a 7.82 ERA the 15 times he has pitched on no days of rest — and a 13.50 ERA when pitching after a two-inning outing the day before.
It looks to be a problem that’s particular to this season. Rogers had a 3.55 ERA last year when working without rest.
Sunday marked the first time Rogers worked on successive days since he pitched in all three games in Miami July 30-Aug 1. He blew his sixth save of the season in the Aug. 1 game, after Sam Dyson gave up two hits and two walks without retiring a batter in his Twins debut.
Rogers was coming off a 31-pitch outing Saturday, tied for the third-most pitches he has thrown in a game this season, when he took the mound on Sunday after the Twins forced extra innings with a two-run ninth.
“We do ask guys occasionally to come back and throw a day [after] throwing that number of pitches,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Could it have affected him in some ways? Maybe so, but it’s something that you try not to do if you don’t have to do it, if you’re not in that sort of situation.
“It’s something we’ve stayed away from but it’s something that does happen in a game.”
Rogers has risen to the ninth-inning role after the Twins took a collaborative approach to closing at the start of the season. Blake Parker picked up 10 saves, but he struggled frequently and was released in July. Rogers, universally liked in the clubhouse, had the support of his teammates to become the last man standing.
It wasn’t a role he was keen on until 2016, when he started pitching in back-to-back games and realized he could pitch in multiple games a week.
“I just respect the fact that my teammates want me out there and have pushed for it,” Rogers said. “Last year and the beginning of this year there were questions from teammates why it wasn’t me to start with. I’m really glad because it was what they wanted and that’s what drives it.”
Rogers’ ascension has been fueled by a wipeout slider and a fastball that approaches 98 mph. The grand slam he gave up to Santana on Sunday notwithstanding, Rogers avoids hard contact as well. He entered Monday fifth among relievers with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 6.80, seventh with a 1.5 WAR and 12th with 1.68 walks per nine innings. His six blown saves are tied for fourth-most, and four of those have come with no rest.
The Twins might have to consider how often they use Rogers the rest of the season. They are equipped better to take another collaborative approach to closing out games, with the addition of righthanders Sergio Romo and Dyson before the July 31 trade deadline. Dyson is recovering from biceps tendinitis but could be activated from the injured list this week. Romo has 127 saves and has pitched in 27 playoff games over his 12-year career. Dyson saved 38 games in 2016 with AL West champion Texas.
Mixing Romo and Dyson in the ninth-inning role would take some workload off Rogers and possibly make him more effective. He has proved in his first extended shot at closing that he can handle the role — but seems better when he pitches consecutive days less frequently.
“He wants to be in the situations,” righthander Kyle Gibson said, “when the game is on the line and it’s his turn to save it or get the hold or whatever it may be.”