Before Esmil Rogers took the mound Thursday and began stifling the Pirates, manager Jim Tracy was curious what would unfold. Rogers is the Rockies' fifth starter, a role he won after it opened up because Aaron Cook had, first, shoulder inflammation and, second, a broken finger in spring training.
"I'm really, really intrigued to see what's going to take place today," Tracy said before Rogers gave up one run in a career-high 7 1/3 innings and beat the Pirates 7-1. "Two of our young starters (Ubaldo Jimenez and Jhoulys Chacin) have grown into where they've gotten to this point, and this is the next guy in line. Some of the things we've seen strongly suggest he's very intent on taking those big strides. We picked him to pitch the fifth game of the year, but what we saw at spring training strongly suggests he could have very easily been a lot higher than that."
Rogers perhaps took a first step toward cementing his spot in the rotation with a memorable outing. He allowed four hits and one walk while striking out a career-high seven. Not only did he top his previous long outing of 6 1/3 innings Aug. 20 at Arizona, but Rogers retired 22 of the final 25 batters he faced and 18 consecutive batters at one point.
That stretch began after Rogers issued his only walk with one out in the second and ended when he gave up a one-out single to Ronny Cedeno in the eighth. Rogers threw 63 of 95 pitches for strikes. He allowed two of his four singles to the first two batters he faced and then threw a wild pitch that put runners on second and third. Andrew McCuthhen's groundout brought in a run, but Rogers, given a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, stranded a runner at third by retiring Lyle Overbay and Pedro Alvarez on grounders.
A converted shortstop who played that position three seasons in the Dominican Summer League and began pitching in 2006 at rookie-level Casper, Rogers, 25, made his 10th career start and pitched in his 30th game in the big leagues. He brought 76 innings of big-league experience into the game along with a much-improved changeup that he worked on in spring training to go with his mid-90 mph fastball and slider. And Rogers had something else motivating him on the mound.
About a week before Rogers and his older brother, Eddie, a veteran infielder in the Diamondbacks system, went to spring training, their father, Danilo Rogers, underwent surgery for colon cancer, followed by radiation treatment.
Beneath the bill of his Rockies cap, Rogers inscribed, "Papi, Espera para mi," which translates to, "Daddy, Wait for me."
Rogers said his father waited until Esmil reached the majors before coming to watch him play professionally. To be sure, Rogers had asked his father and had hoped his father would see him play sooner, but the elder Rogers, maybe to encourage his son, told him he wanted to wait and watch his son perform at the highest level and not at any of his minor league stops.
Now as Rogers, who had four tours with the Rockies last year, tries to gain a foothold in the majors, he has dedicated his season to his father. Rogers said his father wasn't able to visit Denver for the opening of the season because he's undergoing treatment but could come next month.
"He told me, 'I'm going to be better,'" Rogers said. "'You go and play baseball.'"
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