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Mark Rogers, Innings Limits, and the Rotation

Mark Rogers made his second big league start against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night, and pitched a fairly impressive five innings before getting pulled for pitch count reasons.

A few weeks ago, when it was announced that Rogers would be getting at least one start in the season’s closing weeks, I wrote “perhaps Rogers can follow the route Chris Narveson took to a full-time gig in the starting rotation.”  Narveson, of course, parlayed a strong September last season into a spot on the 25-man roster out of Spring Training this season, and ultimately a full-time rotation spot.  With two strong starts — and 9.1 hitless innings to start his Major League career — Rogers may have worked his way into the rotation discussion for 2011.

I’d love to see it, personally.  It would be a great story, I’d much prefer to see a homegrown talent like Rogers over a washed up free agent, and it’s possible he could have the best pure stuff in that rotation. 

I don’t see it happening, though.  At least not right away.

Rick Peterson has done a lot of research on injury prevention, and even worked with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci to develop the concept of what has since become know as the “Verducci Effect”.  Basically, the idea is that raising a young pitcher’s innings by more than 30 from one year to the next is putting him at risk of injury.  Peterson maintains that young pitchers need to “stair step” their way up to to higher inning totals, instead of taking giant leaps.

For that reason, I think there’s a good chance that Rogers at least spends a part of next season in Nashville so the team can monitor his innings.  This year, between Huntsville and Nashville, Rogers threw 116 innings.  Add in the 10 innings he’s now thrown in Milwaukee, and he finishes the year with 125 total innings.  If the Brewers stick to that 30 inning limit, he’d be in line for 156 innings next season.

Is that enough for Rogers to be in the rotation full time?  Probably not.  This year, Narveson has thrown 167.2 innings as the #4 starter, and the Brewers were very uncomfortable with pushing him that far.  Perhaps Rogers could fit into the rotation as a 5th starter who the Brewers skip whenever they get the chance, but even then, it seems as though he would exceed that 156 inning limit.  The only way I could see it working is if they continue to only let him pitch 5 innings per start, and considering the problems the team had with the bullpen absorbing so many short starts this year, I don’t know if Doug Melvin & Co. would be comfortable with that idea.

I want to see Rogers in the big league rotation as much as anyone, but I just don’t see how it can be done without putting him at risk of future injuries.  Considering his already long injury history, it would be better for the club to be overly cautious than to push him next season, especially if 2011 ends up being the “transition” year everyone is expecting it to be.