Taylor Rogers was among seven non-rostered pitchers invited to 2015 spring training with the Twins. How was that?
“I didn’t throw in a game,’’ he said. “I had a lot of [baseballs] bucket duty. I was good at that.’’
Rogers went back to Class AAA Rochester, started 27 games in 28 appearances, with an 11-12 record, a 3.98 ERA and 174 innings. Throw in six starts and 25 innings in the Arizona Fall League, and Rogers had more starts (33) and innings (199) in 2015 than any pitcher in the organization.
This earned Rogers a place on the 40-man roster in 2016. He pitched 7 2/3 innings in six exhibition appearances.
“The first one, against Boston, was horrible,’’ Rogers said. “I didn’t give up a run in the other five.’’
Manager Paul Molitor and pitching coach Neil Allen started to express the opinion that Rogers’ future could be as a reliever. Before last spring, 85 of Rogers' 92 minor league appearances had been as a starter.
Rogers was sent to minor leagues on March 23, but then was involved in the first of the endless pitching moves the Twins would make in the lost season of 2016.
Glen Perkins went on the disabled list, where he remained all season, on April 13 and the left-handed Rogers was recalled. He pitched only once before returning to Rochester on April 19.
When he next was recalled on May 17, with Jose Berrios being optioned, it was with a place in the Twins bullpen. Rogers was behind veteran Fernando Abad in the pecking order for lefties until Aug. 1, when Abad was traded to Boston for pitcher Pat Light.
Rogers wound up pitching in 57 games and 61 1/3 innings. That was the third-highest total for the Twins relievers, behind righthanders Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin, but it gives him high status among bullpen lefties in this camp.
Perkins is coming back from shoulder surgery and there’s no chance he will open the season on the Twins’ active roster. Buddy Boshers had 36 appearances for the Twins and Ryan O’Rourke had 25 in 2016.
The Twins did add veteran Craig Breslow to the spring training mix as a late signee (to a minor-league contract). Presumably, he’s a long shot. And, presumably, there will be two lefties among the seven relievers who will be with the Twins for the April 3 opener in Minneapolis.
Rogers will be one, barring an unforeseen obstacle. The other one?
O’Rourke faced 29 lefties last season, walked three, and held them to a .077 average (2 for 26). Boshers came out of independent baseball in 2015 to be dominant in Rochester and then reasonably effective for the Twins.
The Twins also signed Matt Belisle, a right-hander but a veteran with a cutter that made him better against lefties for Washington in 2016.
Who knows? Maybe it will be one lefty. If that’s the case, Rogers spent the offseason working to make sure it will be him.
“The biggest change out of the bullpen was I became a two-pitch pitcher,’’ Rogers said. “As a starter, I threw enough changeups to feel good about it. As a reliever, you come in with a runner or two on base, and it’s the same old question: ‘Who wants to get beat with his third best pitch?’
“I was throwing five or 10 percent changeups last season, at the most. I lost the feel for it. So, that’s what I did this winter … worked on trying to get the feel back on the changeup.’’
Taylor spends the winter in Denver, and doesn’t have to look far for an offseason workout partner. His twin brother Tyler is a pitcher in the Giants’ system, and on the Class AAA Sacramento roster. They share an offseason home in Denver.
One twist: Tyler is a right-handed pitcher.
Rogers was scheduled to make his third exhibition appearance vs. the Orioles in Sarasota on Thursday. He broke out the changeup for a few pitchers during his one inning vs. Miami on Monday.
“I got a swing and a miss with one changeup,’’ Rogers said.
This was followed by an admission: “The home run I gave up was also on a changeup.’’
It was a two-run homer by Tyler Moore. Rogers gave up seven last season in those 61 1/3 innings, a number that he’s hoping to reduce with a changeup option that can get hitters off the fastball.
“My changeup was too firm as a reliever,’’ Rogers said. “It was coming in 87 or 88 [miles per hour], way too close to my fastball to be effective.. I have it down to 84, 85 here, so that should make it more of a usable pitch.’’