MOOSIC — In Josh Rogers’ locker sits a green game-used Boston Celtics jersey.
It’s his buddy Terry Rozier’s.
The two first met when they were student athletes at Louisville together. Rogers was on the baseball team and Rozier played basketball.
They first connected during Rogers’ freshman year and have been friends every since. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders starter even went to see Rozier play during spring training and sat courtside. That’s where Rozier gave Rogers his jersey.
“He really is a true friend,” Rogers said. “Not often you meet somebody that’s becoming a superstar, I guess, in the NBA, which is really cool. We went to college together my freshman year and we hung out all the time — a couple times a week. We hung out on the weekends, went to the mall together, ate together. We spent late nights in the gym, rebounding for him, helping him out — whatever he needed. It’s really cool to have that relationship with him.”
So as Rogers dominates Triple-A competition in his first year at the level,posting a 2-1 with an 3.00 ERA in four starts,and Rozier has taken over the NBA playoffs, averaging 16.2 points and 6.3 assists per game in the first round heading into Saturday night’s Game 7 against the Milwaukee Bucks, the two Louisville alumni share the same mindset. At the start of their respective seasons, they each wanted more.
Rogers started out in the bullpen, but deep down he knew he was a starter. And he hasn’t lessened his grip off of the role since he moved into the RailRiders starting rotation after Luis Cessa was promoted to the New York Yankees after the season opener.
Rozier has always seen himself as more than a role player. With Kyrie Irving on the shelf with a knee injury, the 2015 first-round draft pick has shined.
“I think his mentality was he always felt he was better than a guy off the bench and he feels like he’s a starter in the league. I feel like I was a starter here,” Rogers said. “Just the kind of mentality we both have, especially what he’s been able to do, man. Night in and night out, being able to score and distribute the ball and not turn it over is really cool to watch. “
Rogers was just happy to have any role with the RailRiders at the start of the season.
But one by one, spots opened up in the rotation.
Cessa was called up to the bigs to replace CC Sabathia. Then Domingo German left to help out in the bullpen. Even after Rogers was already moved to the rotation, Hale was promoted to the bigs, opening up even more spots in the rotation.
He’s taken this opportunity and ran with it. Rogers has allowed two or less runs in three of his four starts and his start on Monday was seven innings of two-hit baseball.
“I’ve always seen myself as a starter,” Rogers said. “Definitely, when I was coming out of the bullpen, like I said in the beginning, I was really happy to be here and just help the team in any way I could and enjoy my time here in Triple-A, but when I got the chance to start I was really trying to make a statement. Every time out, every pitch out, really trying to prove myself to be a starter — not that they didn’t see me as a starter or they saw me as a bullpen guy — just whatever it may be, I see myself as a starter. Just try to be the best I could be as a starter.”
Rogers credits his new relationship with pitching coach Tommy Phelps for much of his success this season.
The 23-year-old southpaw said after Monday’s outing that he’s at his best when he can just focus one pitch at a time and not jump ahead. If he works too fast he can lose control of the strike zone. Phelps has helped him with that.
“I try to work really fast and it sometimes takes away from my pitches — leaving balls over the plate or leaving balls elevated at times because I’m trying to work so fast. Working with Tommy has been unbelievable. I think it has really changed me as a pitcher — to be 100-percent honest. I’m seeing a lot of differences in my video in my pitch execution every single time. It’s been really good and really helpful to just take a deep breath and slow down a little bit and try to execute each pitch.”
If Rogers can continue to pitch like he did Monday against the Columbus Clippers and much of the season, the sky’s the limit.
“When you’re around the zone like he was, you’ll get swings at pitches that were down and out of the zone, but he also threw a lot of pitches for strikes on the outside part of the plate to everybody — called strikes,” RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said of Monday’s start. “You could tell he had a lot of confidence. Once he got started and going, his tempo was in a groove.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle