Tigers catcher Jake Rogers has Tommy John surgery, likely out until 2023
Pittsburgh — The cruelty of baseball. Just as Jake Rogers was establishing himself in the big leagues, he’s going to miss most, if not the entire 2022 season.
Tigers manager AJ Hinch announced that Rogers had Tommy John surgery (ulnar collateral ligament replacement) in Dallas on Wednesday.
“Jake went from being a player who was penciled into the plans here to somebody who firmly entrenched himself into what we’re doing going forward,” Hinch said. “Much has been said about his home runs and more competitive at-bats, but he cleaned up his catching and he was doing everything behind the plate that we asked him to do.”
Rogers, 26, became the Tigers’ primary catcher in May, sharing it with Eric Haase. In 38 games he posted a 120 OPS-plus, hitting six home runs and slugging .496 in 127 plate appearances. More important, as Hinch said, he had earned the trust of the pitching staff and was shutting down opponents’ running games. He threw out 57% of would-be base stealers.
On July 20, Rogers felt some soreness in his right forearm and was diagnosed with a pronator teres strain. It was supposed to keep him out two weeks, but the soreness lingered. He saw multiple doctors and none saw any damage to the UCL.
“To give you my layman’s explanation, one doesn’t always lead to the other, but it can,” Hinch said of the correlation between the pronator teres and the ruptured ligament. “You end up treating the symptoms and getting film (X-rays and MRIs) that don’t show anything that requires further diagnostic testing or any further concern about the ligament.”
And yet, Rogers kept feeling the pain. Hinch said when he started his hitting progression, the forearm soreness returned and that triggered another round of tests.
“He went to doctor after doctor and they couldn’t tell if the ligament had been impacted,” Hinch said. “When he finally started his throwing program, the symptoms returned.”
That’s when specialist Dr. Keith Meister was summoned. He ultimately convinced Rogers and the Tigers that reconstructive surgery was necessary.
“Our medical staff spoke with Dr. Meister’s staff today and said (the surgery) was very necessary once they got in there,” Hinch said. “The surgery went well and Jake is expected to make a full recovery, albeit a lengthy one.”
The Tigers acquired Rogers from Houston in the Justin Verlander trade in 2017. He made his big-league debut in 2019 but struggled both at and behind the plate. He had a 40% strikeout rate with nine passed balls in 35 games.
The 2020 season was pretty much a wash for him. He spent it playing intrasquad games at the alternate site in Toledo. He didn’t make the club out of spring training this season and spent April in Toledo. But once he got the call after veteran Wilson Ramos was injured, he stepped into the everyday catcher role and made an impact.
“He made major strides,” Hinch said. “Those don’t go away just because he’s injured and will miss significant time. Jake earned his way back into our plans here.”
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez had Tommy John surgery in March of 2019 at the age of 29. He was back playing by July of 2020. He’s played in all 137 games for the Royals this year, was an All-Star, and has posted 41 homers with 103 RBIs. He’s also thrown out an American League-leading 41% of would-be base runners.
“(Perez) went through Tommy John and is having an historic season,” Hinch said. “It’s a surgery players can come back from. We expect Jake to make a full recovery. But it is a significant blow to us. He’d turned the corner and was making himself an established big-leaguer. We need him to get healthy.”
Hinch said it was too soon to talk about what this means in terms of the Tigers’ offseason plans. Prospect Dillon Dingler is still more than a year away from being ready to be an impact player at the big-league level.
Haase and Grayson Greiner will likely be back, and possibly they could re-sign veteran Dustin Garneau.
“Losing Jake for this long is clearly going to have an impact on how we need to make our team better this offseason,” Hinch said.