Houston — The education of Tigers rookie catcher Jake Rogers will continue at the ballpark he once thought would be his home — Minute Maid Park.
“Pretty cool to be here,” said Rogers, whom the Astros selected in the third round of the 2016 draft. “I guess the last time I was here was after the draft. I came here to sign. My dad and my brother were here with me and I signed my contract here.”
Some 14 months later, on Aug. 31, 2017, he was traded to the Tigers along with Daz Cameron and Franklin Perez for Justin Verlander. He finished that season at High-A Lakeland and watched the team that traded him and the pitcher he was traded for win the World Series.
“It was cool to see a lot of the guys I had been around in spring training do that, it was nice to see,” he said. “I wasn’t rooting for them, but I wasn’t rooting against them, either.”
Rogers wasn’t feeling overly nostalgic before the game Monday. He has more pressing concerns, namely the hitting funk he’s in. He came into the game hitless in his last 13 at-bats, with seven strikeouts.
His average is down to .143, even if four of his seven hits are home runs.
“Yeah, I am just trying to get my approach back locked in toward the middle of the field and start driving the ball,” he said. “I’ve been pulling off too much. And pitchers know. They’ve been pitching me in and up knowing I’ve been chasing.
“I just have to get back to my approach.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire pulled him aside in the dugout Sunday in Tampa after he grounded to third base with a runner on second and nobody out in the fourth inning.
“He swung at the first pitch down and in at his toes and pulled it foul,” Gardenhire said. “Next pitch he pulls right to the third baseman. He comes in and I say, ‘Jake, what are we doing? Man at second and no outs, what are you thinking.’"
The correct approach would've been to at least try to hit the ball to the right side and advance the runner.
“He was honest," Gardenhire said. "He said, ‘Tell you the truth Gardy, I really wasn’t thinking much. I’ve just been struggling.’ That tells you where he’s at.”
Rogers had struck out in five straight at-bats before that. His only thought was to put a ball in play.
“He’s a young kid and he didn’t even think the process through,” Gardenhire said. “It’s not like he did it on purpose. The process never went there because he’d struck out five times in a row.”
This is where the Tigers are with many of their young hitters. They are giving instruction when warranted. They are giving them every resource available. But at this stage, they are also giving them enough rope to figure things out on their own.
In the first two games in Tampa, Tigers hitters struck out 37 times without drawing a walk. They struck out 49 times in the three games and drew three walks.
“We chased a lot of pitches out of the zone,” Gardenhire said. “That’s why we had no walks. We could’ve taken some walks, absolutely, but we are a young team. We are putting six and seven rookies on the field at a time and they are trying to find their way.
“And we’re trying to let them.”
There may come a time when the Tigers try, again, to take some of the lift out of Rogers’ swing. At 21.7 degrees, he has one of the steepest uppercut swings on the club.
“He has hit some home runs,” Gardenhire said. “But people say it’s not going to work, that lift swing is not going to work. Let’s just let it play out. You can’t say he’s not going to get it done until he doesn’t get it done.
“Then we make adjustments. For now, we’re just going to let him play.”
A new Boyd baby
Tigers ace Matthew Boyd and wife Ashley had their second child in Seattle at 8:30 a.m. PT, Monday — a son, named Isaiah Robert, weighed 7 pounds, 4 ounces and was 19 and three-quarter inches long.
Boyd had left for Seattle immediately after his strong, seven-inning start in Tampa Sunday and arrived at 2:30 a.m.
He will be on paternity leave for four days, so the Tigers, Gardenhire said, will call up a reliever from Triple-A Toledo before the game Tuesday. It is expected that Tyler Alexander will be brought back, but that is not official.
Alexander would likely be used to piggy-back a start with either Spencer Turnbull on Tuesday or Daniel Norris on Wednesday.
The Tigers are contemplating moving Drew VerHagen back into the rotation.
Around the horn
Niko Goodrum (groin) was not available Sunday and was held out of the lineup again on Monday. “He’s day to day, we don’t think it’s anything long term,” Gardenhire said. “But that’s a dangerous line to walk with a sore groin. This is a big deal for us right now. We have to be careful.”
…Left-fielder Christin Stewart remains on the concussion protocol, but his rehab stint in Toledo is going well. Entering Monday, he was 9-for-24 with two doubles in five games. Gardenhire said there is a chance he could rejoin the team in Minnesota. “But we need to see where we are after we get through this Houston series,” he said.
…Third baseman Jeimer Candelario was 0-for-11 at Toledo in the early stages of his rehab assignment.
Tigers at Astros
First pitch: Tuesday, 8:10 p.m.
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-11, 3.75), Tigers: His 3.75 ERA is second only to Indians Zach Plesac among American League rookie starts, and his 106 strikeouts is best among rookie starters. He had eight strikeouts in five innings against the Mariners last time out.
RHP Aaron Sanchez (5-14, 5.79), Astros: After two strong starts since being traded from Toronto, he got roughed up in Oakland in his last one. He was tagged for six runs, four home runs, in 5.1 innings.