The Milwaukee Brewers' Mark Rogers has some pretty big shoes to fill in his return to the big leagues.
Replacing the recently traded Zack Greinke in the rotation, Rogers takes the hill opposite Gio Gonzalez on Sunday afternoon when the slumping Brewers try to salvage a four-game split with the visiting Washington Nationals.
Far from contention in both the NL Central and wild-card standings, fourth-place Milwaukee (45-55) began its process of starting to look toward next season by sending Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for rookie shortstop Jean Segura and two minor leaguers Friday.
"We had to make a decision to turn the page," general manager Doug Melvin said. "These three players are players we feel good about."
With Greinke's departure, though, comes another opportunity for Rogers, who hasn't pitched in the majors since compiling a 1.80 ERA over two starts and four appearances near the end of 2010. The 26-year-old right-hander tried to win a job in Milwaukee's rotation the following spring, but he endured a setback with his surgically repaired throwing shoulder and was later diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in his right wrist.
Rogers was also suspended for 25 games last August after testing positive for a banned stimulant.
"In this game, there's so much that's out of your control that I don't want to get too far ahead of myself," he told MLB's official website. "I'm excited about the opportunity to start (Sunday) and to be back here and have this experience again. I just want to do everything I can to make the most of it."
"I finally feel healthy. Shoulder, hand, everything. I feel very confident with where I'm at right now."
While Rogers is understandably excited, he can't be looking forward to facing the Nationals (60-40). Tied for the best record in baseball, Washington has won seven of eight following Saturday's 4-1 victory.
Replacing fellow rookie Bryce Harper (stomach virus) in the lineup, Corey Brown hit a solo homer - his first career hit - and Tyler Moore and Ryan Zimmerman also went deep. Harper is likely to be available Sunday.
Jordan Zimmermann, meanwhile, threw six strong innings and helped limit Milwaukee to a 1-for-7 effort with runners in scoring position.
"It's a lack of the whole team getting together offensively and defensively," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, whose club has dropped eight of nine. "When you are not consistent in those two parts for a long time, it is hard to get on that winning streak. Sometimes we're pitching well and we are not scoring runs."
Milwaukee could be hard-pressed to get much going again versus Gonzalez (13-5, 3.13 ERA). After getting tagged for a season-high six runs over 3 1-3 innings during a 9-5 loss to the New York Mets on July 19, Gonzalez got back on track Tuesday in a 5-2 victory at Citi Field by limiting the Mets to an unearned run and two hits in seven innings.
"Just wanted to redeem myself from the last start," said Gonzalez, tied for the most wins in the NL. "You always want to bounce back as a pitcher. You don't want to feel down and out. A lot of these guys came up to me and gave me some positive energy, positive feedback. So the best I wanted to do was return the favor."
Getting his first look at the Brewers, Gonzalez has gone 7-1 over his last eight road starts while holding opponents to a .186 average. He has, however, struggled during day games, posting a 4.22 ERA over nine outings compared to a 2.35 mark at night.