INDIANAPOLIS – One of the secrets that plays into Jason Rogers’ success this month would not be easy to guess.
A new swing? Nope, no drastic changes there.
A new routine in the batter’s box? No, he does the same amount taps of his bat on home plate prior to every pitch that he has in the past.
Rogers is hitting .329 and has 10 multi-hit games in May. Several reasons play into Rogers’ success this month, highlighted by recently being named International League Player of the Week. The energy, effort and concentration have been better, Indianapolis manager Andy Barkett said. His approach at the plate has been aggressive, hitting coach Butch Wynegar said. However, there’s that one reason not many people outside of the clubhouse know about: the motivation of Joseph Terdoslavich.
The two have a unique relationship. They’ve played together in the winter leagues, but never on the same professional team prior to this season. And a player like Terdoslavich might have been just what Rogers and others needed this season.
“We have some guys on this team that have done a real good job of pushing Rogers,” Wynegar said. “His work ethic has been a lot better this year. … They push each other and we didn’t have that last year. I think Rogers is a guy that needs a player like Joey to come in here and push him.”
Barkett mentioned previously that, “We had some guys last year on [Indianapolis] who I would say were not the greatest influences,” when discussing Jose Osuna’s ability to rise above that and remain focused.
Now, the team has a different makeup this season and Terdoslavich is one off-field reason why Indianapolis has a laid-back clubhouse that seems to meld together well.
“I try to help everybody, I try to push everybody,” Terdoslavich said. “Because I want them to push me back and that’s great for the team.”
Rogers gets pushed, maybe even needled by Terdoslavich in a kind of “I did this, let’s see what you’ve got,” challenge. But it’s all done in a good-natured way intended at maximizing what Rogers can do at the plate.
“They push each other and we didn’t have that last year,” Wynegar said. “I think Rogers is a guy that needs a player like Joey to come in here and push him. (Terdoslavich) is his buddy and Joey has done a good job of pushing (Rogers) every day. It’s in a great, fun-loving way. But it’s almost that love-hate relationship.”
However much credit each reason deserves is hard to pinpoint. But whatever the mix of reasons, Rogers is having a productive month after hitting .217/.289/.435 in April, though he did have four home runs to boost his power numbers. But in May, Rogers is hitting .329/.360/.437.
“I think he’s recently decided to kind of lock in a little bit more it seems like,” Barkett said. “The concentration level, the effort, the energy — everything has been better lately. Maybe it just needed to get a little bit warm, I don’t know. He’s getting the head out better and being a little more aggressive in hitter’s counts. I think that’s the difference.”
That aggressive attitude is what Wynegar wants to see out of Rogers. The attitude Wynegar has been waiting to see for more than a year when the organization traded Keon Broxton for Rogers.
“Rogers is showing right now the type of player we thought we were getting when he was traded over here,” Wynegar said. “And we didn’t see that last year. He was a very passive, non-aggressive approach, just flip balls to right field.”
There have been talks with Rogers about the type of hitter he needs to be, and those conversations might finally be taking hold.
“I told him, ‘You’re an impact guy,’” Wynegar said. “For you to help that big league club — whether off the bench or playing — when you come off that bench there’s a chance you’re going to impact the ball. I’m hoping that mentality has helped him, too, knowing what kind of hitter the organization wants him to be. We’re not just talking home runs, but good aggressive, solid swings at good pitches and put the damn barrel on it. You’re strong and if you hit it right, it goes out.”
Rogers came to the Pirates after a solid season with Milwaukee, hitting .296/.367/.441 in 152 at-bats. After struggling in 2016, he was taken off the 40-man roster in the offseason and designated for assignment, but cleared waivers, which allowed his return to the Pirates’ organization. And there are a few players in front of Rogers at the major league level – Josh Bell, John Jaso and, now, Osuna.
“I think it’s real easy to feel that the organization has given up on you because you’re off the 40-man roster,” Barkett said. “I think it’s easy for players to — and I’m not saying he did this — but it’s definitely possible to feel sorry for himself and kind of wonder where they are. I think by reassuring him. I know Clint (Hurdle) did in big league camp, saying you have to come down here to hit, you’re still on the radar. I just reassured him that you are still on the radar.”
As this season has shown, the unpredictable can occur at any position. Rogers is in a backlog at his position, playing exclusively at first base and as the designated hitter this season. But he is showing more production at the plate than in the past. So, if a need unexpectedly arises, Rogers could be a solid replacement.