Detroit Tigers C Jake Rogers undergoes Tommy John surgery, likely out for most of 2022

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PITTSBURGH — Detroit Tigers catcher Jake Rogers underwent successful Tommy John surgery Wednesday morning in Dallas, manager AJ Hinch announced.

Dr. Keith Meister, the head team physician for the Texas Rangers, performed the surgery to reconstruct Rogers' ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The 26-year-old will miss the remainder of the 2021 season and much, if not all, of the 2022 campaign.

"We certainly expect Jake to make a full recovery," Hinch said Wednesday. "It is a significant blow to us because he had turned the corner on making himself an established big leaguer, but we need to get him healthy.

"There was some debate on whether or not he needed this surgery from various doctors around the country. Thankfully, Dr. Meister was the voice of reason. It was even more necessary than the films showed throughout this process. You got to treat the symptoms and not just the films."

Rogers is the team's second player to require Tommy John surgery this season, following right-hander Spencer Turnbull. After pitching a no-hitter in May, Turnbull had his surgery July 29. It was performed by Dr. Jeffrey Kugas in Birmingham, Alabama.

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Tigers catcher Jake Rogers reacts after reaching third base in the seventh inning of the Tigers' 10-5 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in Arlington, Texas.
Tigers catcher Jake Rogers reacts after reaching third base in the seventh inning of the Tigers' 10-5 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in Arlington, Texas.

Rogers landed on the injured list July 19 with right arm soreness, and the medical tests revealed a pronator teres strain, which meant he had a forearm injury near his elbow. Around the end of July, the Tigers were eyeing a "late-season return" for their budding catcher.

By late August, though, Hinch said he was "less optimistic" about Rogers' return this year. He still hadn't progressed in his throwing program in Lakeland, Florida. In early September, Hinch's tone changed, explaining: "I don't feel good" about the impending medical results.

The outcome: Tommy John surgery.

"As he got into his hitting progression, which is before the throwing progression, he had symptoms again," Hinch said. "That initiated a different review on how we could look at different things to see if the ligament was actually involved. He went to doctor after doctor that could not tell if the ligament was impacted or not.

"And then we started the throwing program again and maybe thought it was general soreness. It leads to further symptoms. Further symptoms gets more diagnostic testing, and we eventually made the decision to go in and fix the ligament because there was really no other symptoms to treat."

Dr. Frank Jobe pioneered the surgery, a reconstruction of the torn ulnar collateral ligament in the throwing elbow, after the 1974 season. Tigers pitching prospect Alex Faedo underwent the surgery in December 2020. Fellow prospect Joey Wentz had the surgery in March 2020 and returned for his first official game 14 months later. He has pitched for Double-A Erie since June.

The recovery process usually takes 12-18 months.

"I think the rehab is somewhat similar," Hinch said, comparing a pitcher and a catcher. "The only guy that throws more balls on a nightly basis than the pitcher is the catcher. A little tricky with the catcher with different arm angles and a different throw. The rehab portion of it is the same.

"Timeline-wise, I have no idea. Some people beat it, some people take a long time. People can throw out 12-plus months, but that's above my medical expertise. Position players are a lot more rare, just because you don't hear about them but they happen, so I don't know timeline-wise what that means."

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The 2021 season has been difficult yet rewarding for Rogers. After hoping to make the Opening Day roster out of spring, training, Rogers was relegated to the alternate training site in Toledo, and then Triple-A once the minor-league season began.

The Tigers recalled Rogers to the big leagues May 7, giving him another opportunity to cement his status as the catcher of the future. The organization acquired him (with pitcher Franklin Perez and outfielder Daz Cameron) from the Houston Astros in the 2017 Justin Verlander trade.

The first go-around wasn't pleasant.

Rogers hit just .125 with four home runs, eight RBIs, 13 walks and 51 strikeouts over 35 games. His defense — the skill in which he excels — slumped, too. He had nine passed balls over 302 innings behind the plate.

"There's an opportunity here," Rogers said May 8, ahead of his first game in 2021. "I want to make the most of it. I'm going to run with it. Hopefully, I do pretty well up here and make a name for myself. If I stay up here, I do. If I don't, I'm going to go back down, serve my time and wait. I'm just trying to help the team win."

Rogers didn't leave until an injury nixed his season.

He showcased an improved offensive approach with a .239 batting average, five doubles, three triples, six home runs, 17 RBIs, 11 walks and 46 strikeouts over 38 games. The Tigers were excited about this production, considering his strength lies behind the plate, rather than at it.

With only three passed balls over across 310⅔ innings, he displayed the defensive success that caused the Astros to draft him No. 97 overall in 2016 and the Tigers to require his involvement in the Verlander deal in August 2017. He also recorded a .997 fielding percentage and one error.

"Jake went from a player who was penciled into the plans to somebody who had firmly entrenched (himself) as part of what we were doing moving forward," Hinch said. "I was impressed by the work that he did in the minor leagues. When he came up, he grabbed the opportunity and took off. Much is said about the homers and more competitive at-bats, but he cleaned up his catching, and he was doing a lot of good things behind the plate.

"He made major strides this season. Those don't go away just because he's injured and will miss significant time. But I think Jake had earned his way back to being very much a factor into what we're doing."

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Jake Rogers and Ty Madden, just two guys from Texas, talkin' baseball in the Tigers dugout.
Jake Rogers and Ty Madden, just two guys from Texas, talkin' baseball in the Tigers dugout.

Another point on Rogers' resume: He shined when working with rookie pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. With Rogers calling the shots, Mize flashed a 3.06 ERA with 13 walks and 54 strikeouts over 61⅓ innings; Skubal posted a 4.26 ERA with 17 walks and 62 strikeouts across 50⅔ innings. Fellow rookie starter Matt Manning only pitched 14⅓ innings with Rogers, but they were paired in Triple-A Toledo earlier this season.

The four ex-prospects — Mize, Skubal, Manning and Rogers — played for Double-A Erie in 2019. The Tigers believed getting them back together in 2021 would help their all-around development in the major leagues.

Since Rogers went to the injured list, Mize, Skubal and Manning have worked with catchers Eric Haase, Dustin Garneau and Grayson Greiner.

Considering the severity of Rogers' injury, Haase will enter the offseason penciled in as the team's starting catcher in 2022. The 28-year-old rookie is hitting .234 with 20 home runs, 54 RBIs, 20 walks and 96 strikeouts in 81 games, but he still has a lot to prove — as does Rogers — before becoming established.

So don't be surprised if the Tigers add a catcher from the free-agent market this winter.

"It hurts our depth and quite honestly hurts our major-league team right away," Hinch said. "We do have the two catchers (Haase and Garneau) that are here now, and we'll have our offseason discussions when we get to the offseason. But losing Jake for this long a time is clearly going to have an impact on how we feel we need to make our team better."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers catcher Jake Rogers undergoes Tommy John surgery