Rogers shines in first two outings


The UK Baseball team plays Bowling Green at Cliff Hagan Field on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010. Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt

Heading into the start of baseball season, hope springs eternal. Those words are tossed around from dugouts as often as baseballs are tossed around the infield when pitchers and catchers report.

It’s even better when hope is fulfilled when the players move from the indoors onto February’s frigid fields.

UK was no different. Heading into the season, a pervasive sense of hope and optimism surrounded the team as they geared up for the season. The Cats had a particular reason to have “cautious optimism,” in the words of assistant coach Brad Bohannon, for freshman pitcher Taylor Rogers, who had enjoyed a breakout summer.

With the season six games old, Rogers has been all they could have hoped for and more.

The cool, calm, and collected southpaw was somewhat thrust into the weekend rotation after senior pitcher James Paxton left the team. Rogers has flourished in his first two career starts. He tossed a beauty of a game in his first collegiate appearance, throwing 7.2 shutout innings against West Virginia. He followed that up with a six-inning, six-hit, one-run performance against Bowling Green on Saturday.

“There’s always that unknown, just because it’s a different level of baseball,” Rogers said. “Getting that first game under my belt was huge. Ninety percent of it is confidence, and that other 10 is ability. Once you’ve seen it happen, it’s easy to have that confidence.”

Even though Rogers convincingly picked up the win in both games, he experienced two opposite ends of the pitching experience. Against West Virginia, he said he felt sharp with all his pitches.

Bowling Green was a different story, as he allowed a baserunner in every inning but was able to make adjustments and prevent runs from crossing the plate.

“It says he’s got some poise,” UK head coach Gary Henderson said.  “(Bowling Green) was a little bit harder than his last time out, but he was able to figure things out.”

Rogers isn’t an overpowering pitcher, recording five strikeouts in his two starts. But he gets ahead early in the count — he’s thrown 41 first-pitch strikes to the 54 batters faced — and has a secondary pitch he can throw when the lineup faces him a second time around.

Still, 13.2 innings and one run to start a college career is impressive, regardless of who is on the mound.

“I don’t know if you predict that many zeroes,” Henderson said. “I wasn’t doing that by any stretch. Anytime you expect a freshman to be a weekend guy, you’re setting them up to fail. I am mildly surprised when a freshman does well, but he’s a talented kid.”

Granted, it’s only been two games.  It’s uncertain how much stock can be put into a pitcher’s performance who has little to no scouting report for opponents to go off. While Rogers likely won’t be able to keep up his glistening 0.66 ERA as the season progresses, that doesn’t mean his first two starts were total anomalies.

“Anytime you throw strikes and have a fastball that moves, you’re going to be successful,” Bohannon said. “You won’t see him waver. He has a very calm demeanor, which is a huge benefit for a pitcher.”

UK may have preferred to ease the freshman into the rotation, but with Paxton’s absence, Rogers’ preseason performances have overwhelmed any hesitancy about thrusting the young gun into the rotation.

“I think coach Henderson loves to ease kids into the rotation, but (Rogers) had earned it over the last six months,” Bohannon said. “And he is making Henderson look real smart.”