FORT MYERS, Fla. – At the other end of the clubhouse, Jason Castro was describing how health and preparation, not statistics, were his focus this year. Across the way, Nelson Cruz was telling reporters that he doesn’t care what his spring numbers turn out to be. And at his locker, Taylor Rogers was … saying the exact opposite.
Doesn’t Rogers know that stats-don’t-matter is the default spring training position of established major leaguers everywhere?
“Oh, I know. ‘They don’t put your spring training stats on a baseball card, everyone forgets them on Opening Day,’ all that,” the Twins’ top lefthanded reliever said. “But my mind-set is, I need to have a good spring. Get some more outs, have more success. I’ve got to do better than last year.”
Well, that shouldn’t be too hard. Rogers, coming off a 2017 season in which he led the AL in holds with 30, adopted the numbers-don’t-matter mantra last February. He eventually discovered that they don’t matter until they do.
Rogers surrendered 21 hits and 10 runs in only 12⅓ innings last spring, a 6.57 ERA inflicted by batters hitting .388 off him. Worse, the pounding continued into the regular season. By mid-April, his ERA was 3.81, and after giving up eight runs while recording only 11 outs over the final 10 days of the month, it stood at 8.44. Even after a decent May, it was 5.48.
“I tried not to look at it, but every now and then you see it on the [score]board somewhere,” Rogers said. “It made the season an uphill battle. I kept trying to knock it down, knock it down, all year. And then I looked up at the end and I was like, ‘wow.’ ”
That’s because, after giving up an RBI double to former teammate Eduardo Nunez at Fenway Park on July 28, Rogers stopped giving up runs.
The 28-year-old finished the season with 28 consecutive scoreless appearances, totaling 26 innings. Back-to-back-to-back shutouts over two months, in a sense.
“It’s crazy to think about, that the Boston run was the last one,” Rogers said. “Caught some breaks in there, too, which doesn’t hurt.”
The streak, and his status as a three-year veteran, paid off with a $1.525 million contract for 2019. Rogers, who finished 2018 with a 2.63 ERA in 72 games, heard rumors that he might be a candidate for a long-term extension, but he said the Twins never called to offer one.
“My phone’s still on,” he said with a laugh. “They know where I work.”
He’s right, they certainly noticed. “Taylor Rogers had an elite season for us last year,” General Manager Thad Levine said last month. “He deserves to be mentioned with some of the best in the game.”