Detroit — The topic was the offensive struggles of rookie catcher Jake Rogers, specifically how concerned the Tigers coaching staff was about the damage this could be doing to his psyche.
It was suggested to manager Ron Gardenhire that, from the outside, it appears Rogers has the mental toughness to handle this.
“Yeah, he does, but I can look mentally strong from the outside, too,” he said, a grin cracking his face. “But on the inside, I’m pretty fragile right now.”
The message, however humorously delivered, was received: Don’t judge a book by its cover.
“Everybody can do that,” Gardenhire said. “You can put on a pretty good show, but are you (OK)? We don’t really know that part. He comes to the ballpark and works his tail off every day and he gets after it during the game.
“I just don’t want it to affect his catching. I want him to continue the process of catching. That’s where he really excels.”
Rogers took a 1-for-31 skid into the game against the Indians Tuesday. He had struck out 18 times in that stretch. On the season, he has eight hits in 67 at-bats, four of them home runs. Forty-two percent of his plate appearances have ended with a strikeout.
The Tigers are acutely aware of the damage that can be wrought by such prolonged struggles on a young player just cutting teeth at the major league level. And they are monitoring Rogers closely, both physically and emotionally.
“It’s at a delicate point,” Gardenhire said. “But we have to let him play. He came up here to play, not sit the bench. He’s got to hit his way through it. It’s better than trying to do it in a pennant race. We’ve got a little leeway here.”
Understand this, too: Failure can also be a great developmental tool.
“A lot of times with kids like that, if we feel like they are ultimately going to have to make an adjustment, you have to let them fail a little bit,” Gardenhire said. “Then you have their attention, because then they’re going to seek help.”
The Tigers went through this with JaCoby Jones for the better part of two years before he fully committed to the swing changes and something clicked. The Tigers have been concerned with the severity of Rogers’ upper-cut swing. They feel it leaves too big of a hole at the top of the strike zone.
So far, pitchers are exploiting that two ways — they are beating him with elevated fastballs, and, because he’s so anxious to get a ball down in the zone, he’s been chasing pitches in the dirt.
Rogers has made some adjustments since he’s been with the Tigers. He’s lowered his hands and seems to be making a concerted effort to shorten his swing and stay on the ball longer. But any major swing adjustments will have to be made in the offseason and into spring training.
“He’s working really hard,” Gardenhire said. “Lloyd (McClendon, hitting coach) is talking to him every day. He’s really focused on trying to put the ball in play. But this is a tough league. Just let him play through it right now.
“We will give him breaks here and there and just see how he does.”
Around the horn
Mike Rabelo, manager of the Tigers Double-A affiliate at Erie, has been selected to manage a team in the Arizona Fall League. He will manage the Mesa Solar Sox.
... The Tigers signed former Orioles right-hander Matt Wotherspoon to a minor league contract. The 27-year-old pitched in two games with the Orioles this season — allowed eight runs in 4⅔ innings — and struggled at Triple-A Norfolk (5.54 ERA and a 1.4 WHIP).
Indians at Tigers
First pitch: Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.
TV/radio: FSD, 97.1
RHP Aaron Civale (1-3, 1.82), Indians: He made his big-league debut against the Tigers in June and shut them out on two hits over six innings. The sinker-cutter-slider pitcher hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of his six starts. And, remarkably, of the 83 batted balls against him, he’s not given up a single barrel (exit velocity of 95 mph or better).
RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-9, 6.48), Tigers: Besides health, nothing has turned his season around more than the addition of a two-seam fastball. He’s throwing that for strikes and consequently getting more swings and misses with his slider, since it’s coming out of the same arm slot. In the last four starts, opponents are hitting .184 with a .581 OPS.