On April 21 Rangers lefthander Kenny Rogers fell to 0-2 with two no-decisions and was searching for his lost changeup. Then before a game at Ameriquest Field in Arlington, the 40-year-old Rogers ran into Dick Egan, a 68-year-old Detroit Tigers scout who was Rogers's pitching coach when he was in an instructional league more than two decades ago.
"Just turn it loose and throw the damn ball," Egan told his former pupil during their 30-minute talk in the Rangers' dugout. "Let your grip do the work."
Says Egan, "He needed to stop worrying about his mechanics, his arm speed, how he was throwing the ball. For him the velocity difference comes when he's throwing the ball as hard as he can [but with a different grip]. And he's successful when he's getting that velocity difference between his four-seam fastball and his changeup, which he is now."
The next time he took the mound, Rogers heeded Egan's advice, and armed with a polished changeup, Rogers stifled the Mariners--by throwing his changeup exactly like a fastball but with his palm facing forward--in an 8-2 victory. After his six-hit, complete-game 5-0 shutout of the Twins last Saturday, Rogers extended his streak of scoreless innings to 30. It was an unexpected stretch of dominance from a finesse pitcher who has had a meek strikeout rate of 3.64 per nine innings this season.
"He's just creating pitches [to fit the situation]," Rangers catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. said after Saturday's victory, in which Rogers threw 104 pitches and struck out two, while walking none. "He hasn't thrown the same game [twice]. Every one is different. [On Saturday] he was experimenting with a cutter, and it was working. He was throwing a bunch of them and was really tough on righthanders."
Says an American League advance scout, "It starts with [Rogers's] off-speed pitches, which keep hitters on their toes and guessing and allows him to throw his fastball and cutter effectively. He's throwing his fastball in the low 90s, better than he was last year, and he's locating the ball on both sides of the plate. [The Mariners'] Jamie Moyer won 21 games and had a career year after he turned 40. [Rogers] looks as if he could do the same."
At week's end the resurgent Rogers (4-2) led the AL with a 1.49 ERA, a substantial improvement over his career 4.28 ERA entering this season as well as his personal best (as a full-time starter) of 3.17 in 1998. During his scoreless streak, which spanned four games, he had allowed only three extra-base hits and just 10 players to reach scoring position.
Rogers is dominating opposing teams only months after speculation that his career might be over. In February the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Rogers, who was 18-9 with a 4.76 ERA and was selected to the All-Star team in 2004, threatened to retire on the eve of spring training if his contract, which expires after this season, wasn't extended. Rogers showed up at camp on time but was lambasted on local talk radio for appearing selfish. Since spring training Rogers, who denied the reports, has rarely talked to the media, and his contract situation remains unchanged.
"He came into spring training on a mission," says Rangers pitching coach Orel Hershiser. "I think he wants to continue to pitch, and I think he's proven his point that he can still pitch."
It is Hershiser's major league record that Rogers is pursuing. From Aug. 30 through Sept. 28, 1988, Hershiser threw 59 straight shutout innings for the Dodgers. "It's hard to compare 30 innings now to what I did in a different generation," Hershiser says of Rogers, who set the Rangers' record with 39 scoreless innings in 1995. "[Still] I think you are stepping onto hallowed ground. And when you factor in that he plays in a generation of serious offense, you have to weigh what he's done accordingly."
This spring Texas owner Tom Hicks said that he'd like to see Rogers retire as a Ranger but also added, "It's up to Kenny to continue to pitch well. If Kenny has success this year that's remotely equal to what he had last year, we'll extend him. It's a business. Our guys want to get as much evidence as they can before they commit the dollars."
If the last 3 1/2 weeks are any indication, Rogers won't be going anywhere anytime soon.
Three Up Three Down
Ken Griffey Jr., CF, Reds
After enduring the longest home run drought of his career to start the season, the 35-year-old Griffey had homered five times since April 30.
Brett Myers, RHP, Phillies
The talented 24-year-old ranked third in the NL in ERA (1.63) and second in strikeouts (62).
Andruw Jones, CF, Braves
After a miserable April, Jones was hitting .400 with six homers and an .911 slugging percentage in May.
The A's were last in the league in runs scored (3.6) and slugging percentage (.339), and next to last in batting average (.236).
Eric Milton, LHP, Reds
The former Phillie has been a bad investment (three years, $25.5 million), with a 7.21 ERA and a major-league-high 14 homers allowed in eight starts.
Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Mets
In his second year he has looked lost at the plate (.224 average) and in the field (four errors).