Three innings, seven hits, seven earned runs, two walks, and three home runs allowed. That was the pitching line for Esmil Rogers on Friday night against the Oakland Athletics. Needless to say it was not the way the Toronto Blue Jays wanted to start things off, and as has become a common thread for them this year, it put them into an early hole.
However, it may also be part of another issue. The 27-year-old reliever turned starter has apparently hit the wall and hit it hard.
Now, that was likely to be expected. Before taking the mound on Friday night, Rogers had already exceeded his previous season high in innings by ten. His workload was one that the young pitcher had not prepared himself for this past winter or in the spring, but his initial transition to starter clearly masked that, as he stepped into the Jays rotation smoothly and pitched well for a stretch. In fact, that five game stretch in June had him throwing at a 2.43 ERA, a .229 batting average against, and a .652 OPS against.
Unfortunately, it appears that all good things must end.
Since the start of July, a span of six starts, not including Friday night’s debacle, Rogers has been lit up. In those last 33.0 innings, he has produced an ERA of 7.36, a .351 batting average against, and a .929 OPS against. His line drive percentage has gone from 19% in June to 29% since, and his average game score has dropped from 57 to 36.
So aside from fatigue, what else could be hampering Esmil?
Well, looking into it deeper at Brooks Baseball and we can see that he has a couple of issues going on. Firstly, as seen in the first table below, he’s leaving a lot of balls over the middle of the plate and he’s being punished for it. Batters are teeing off on anything he throws remotely near the strike-zone.
So what is Esmil Rogers doing so differently now that he wasn’t a month ago. That’s where this second chart from Brooks comes in handy.
Ever since peaking in June with the use of his sinker (35.37%), Rogers has consistently relied upon it less, with the right-hander only using it 22.87% of the time in July and 15.46% in August. In its stead, Rogers has increased the use of his curveball, from 8.84% in June to 12.89% in July and 16.49% in August. He’s also relied heavily on his cutter, going from 3.16% in June to 4.57% and 14.43% in July and August respectively.
That’s not to say that these changes are the problem behind his struggles, but they move away from his regular four-seam fastball and his reliance on his curve and his cutter could be signs that fatigue is starting to set in.
Now, the Blue Jays have some options available to them in the near future. Drew Hutchison is throwing in Buffalo tonight, but struggled in his start there, surrendering 6 earned over 3.2 innings pitched. Kyle Drabek is also on the mend and is another possibility. Then there are Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman, both of whom are throwing well at Double-A New Hampshire, but they profile more as September call-ups right now. And don’t even get me started on Ricky Romero.
Still, with Rogers struggling, the Blue Jays may be best served to move him back to the pen at this point in the season and use his spot in the rotation to help evaluate what they have in Tommy John-recoverees Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, or in rookies Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman.
With the season lost, there is not much more to lose in that regard.