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Rogers confident 'dead arm' phase will pass

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Rogers confident 'dead arm' phase will pass play video for Rogers confident 'dead arm' phase will pass

PHOENIX -- Brandon Kintzler knows exactly what fellow Brewers right-hander Mark Rogers is feeling.

"I was getting a little frustrated a couple of weeks ago, throwing 88-90 [mph]," Kintzler said. "But after looking at video, I figured out what I was doing wrong. I was standing too tall and I was falling down the mound instead of driving. I made one switch, and there it is. There's the velocity again."

Meanwhile, Rogers is still searching.

The former first-round Draft pick made a Cactus League start on Sunday for the first time in nearly two weeks and worked with a fastball that topped out at 89 mph. Most of Rogers' fastball strikes were in the 85-86 mph range, said a National League scout in attendance at Maryvale Baseball Park. Rogers surrendered two Rockies runs in three innings, on two hits and two walks.

This "dead arm" phase -- Rogers and the Brewers say he is healthy -- has already cost him a spot in the starting rotation. Now the Brewers face a difficult decision about whether Rogers fits on the Opening Day roster at all. He is out of Minor League options, and considering that he is only 27 years old and was touching 97 mph in August during a successful run of Brewers starts, there is worry that he would be claimed if exposed to waivers.

Do the Brewers stash Rogers in the bullpen?

Should he go on the disabled list?

Do the Brewers try sneaking him through to the Minors?

If Rogers were general manager for a day, what would he do with himself?

"I don't know. That's a tough question," Rogers said. "They know what I can do. They know where I'll be, for sure, in a short amount of time. The ball is in their court, 100 percent. But I'm 100 percent confident that I will have my velocity where it always is in a short period of time."

* * * * * *

Kintzler has been Rogers' biggest backer in recent weeks. When Rogers was bumped from the Brewers spring rotation and asked to face hitters on a back field at 9 a.m. instead, Kintzler took a position behind the backstop and watched.

Most mornings since then, Kintzler and Rogers have sat together and talked pitching. They did so on Sunday morning, before Rogers' important outing.

"You don't want to feel alone," said Kintzler, who was in a similar funk last spring while dealing with a nerve issue in his elbow. "I know how that is -- you feel like everyone is staring at you, wondering what's wrong with you. You feel for the guy. All of a sudden, it disappeared on him. I want to support him."

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz have tried to be similarly supportive. They have viewed video of Rogers' outings compared to last season, when he was 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA in seven starts in late July and August, a big reason the Brewers were able to start a hot streak after trading Zack Greinke.

At the end of August, the Brewers opted to shut Rogers down as a precautionary move. It was a healthy, successful season for a pitcher who had endured shoulder and hand surgeries earlier in his career. Rogers had pitched himself into the team's 2013 plans.

"You're always rooting for and thinking about and figuring out the guys who are struggling," Roenicke said. "The guys that are going well, you try to leave them alone or try to maintain what you're doing with them to keep them on that path. It's the guys who are struggling who you are always concerned about. Almost all our energy is on how we're fixing guys and getting them right."

Said Kintzler: "He seemed upbeat this morning. The thing is, he knows it's there. Last year, I watched him [early in the season], and he was throwing 88. He said he was taking it easy. Then, all of a sudden, a few months later he was throwing 97. He's always been a puzzling guy with his stuff. It might just show up.

"Look at me. Last week at this time I was throwing 88. [On Saturday against the Angels], I was 93. You just never know when something is going to click. Once he gets it in sync, it's going to be there."

* * * * * *

The Brewers hoped some time away from Cactus League play would help. After an awful outing against the Rangers on March 12, they had Rogers face hitters twice on a back field, and saw some progress in those sessions. Roenicke spoke of new life on Rogers' pitches, though the velocity continued to lag.

Rogers has wondered aloud whether he did too much, too soon during the offseason. He wanted so badly to win a spot in the Opening Day starting rotation that he began before Christmas making the drive from his Chandler, Ariz. home to Maryvale Baseball Park, and as camp began he felt sharp and strong.

That soon changed. The NL scout watching Sunday remarked: "Slow arm."

"My Spring Training velocities have always been down, throughout my whole career, and always at the middle of April, it jumps up," Rogers said. "I can tell you guys for a fact: It will be there. That's all. Hopefully sooner rather than later."

Assuming Kintzler makes it, the Brewers have three pitchers vying for one bullpen job: Rogers and non-roster invitees Alfredo Figaro and Donovan Hand. Figaro was throwing 93-96 mph against the Rockies on Sunday. Hand has not allowed a run in 11 Cactus League innings.

If all parties can agree on it, a stint on the DL for Rogers seems a possibility. When Roenicke was asked Sunday whether it's possible to disable a healthy pitcher, he responded, "Is he healthy throwing 89? Something's wrong. I don't want to say it's a shoulder or elbow, because that's definitely not my place to say it when he's never mentioned that. He always says everything is fine."

"But," Roenicke added, "something is going on."

Roenicke was unaware of any more outings scheduled for Rogers before the end of Spring Training, meaning the Brewers may have to make their decision on what they have seen so far.

Sunday, Rogers said, was "better." His arm felt "lighter." One of the hits against him was a check-swing, opposite field single. The other was an RBI single to the opposing pitcher.

"It will get better every time out," Rogers said. "It's just a matter of wanting it to be there now. I feel like on some pitches when I stay behind the ball, it is better. It's just a matter of being consistent with my delivery and letting the rest take care of itself, not trying to put too much pressure on myself to be perfect."

He added: "I view myself as a starting pitcher and, eventually, I want to be back in the starting rotation. How we get to that point, I'm not quite sure yet. But that's the ultimate goal, to be back in the rotation, and I honestly believe than when my stuff comes back, that's where I'll be."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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