Neil Walker, a veteran of more than 5,000 major league plate appearances, who has seen everything, had not seen everything.
He brought his hand up from the ground near his left foot to his right waist. From one side of his body to the other, slightly elevated. Resorting to a sort of charades because words weren’t doing the pitches he had seen justice.
Others contend the arm angle is the hardest aspect of hitting off Tyler Rogers. For Walker, it was pitches that had a dance unlike any he’s seen.
“It’s more difficult to figure out where the ball is going to end up,” Walker, the Marlins infielder, told KNBR last week after seeing the Giants’ submariner for the first time. He started with the hand motions. “Sometimes the ball is doing one of these, sometimes another, sometimes it’s going up, sometimes it’s moving left and right. The consistency of what you’re seeing is probably the toughest part of an at-bat. He’s throwing a fastball that kind of goes up and over. But it starts at a certain point, it’s in the zone, and then it’s doing something different.
“Throwing the slider or curveball, or whatever you call it – that’s kind of going up and across, but he’s throwing it from down here. He’s covering the entire [plate]. Timing wise and visually, it’s not the easiest thing.”
Walker isn’t alone. Rogers, finally given a chance at the major league level, is making a case not just that he belonged previously, but that he belongs next season, when virtually the entire bullpen will be up for grabs. It took him seven minor league seasons to get here, a 28-year-old rookie who put in more than his share of the time. In his first 12 appearances and 11 2/3 innings, he’s allowed just two runs (1.54 ERA), seven hits and two walks, while striking out eight.
If it took too long for the Giants to recognize a threat out of their bullpen, it’s taking too long for opposing batters to figure out just where the ball is coming from and where it’s going.
There was good reason for Walker to sound frustrated after his only at-bat against the rookie resulted in both a hit-by-pitch and strikeout. Such was the seventh-inning slider Rogers unleashed, starting from a few inches off the mound and outside, then rising and cutting continually in. Rogers managed a slight smile walking off the mound.
This Tyler Rogers slider 👀👀👀 pic.twitter.com/niHa78YDJz
— Kerry Crowley (@KO_Crowley) September 14, 2019
Several Pirates and Marlins were polled after their recent trip to Oracle Park, and none could remember facing a pitcher who came closer to scraping the ground. Walker brought up Byung-Hyun Kim, though he never actually had an at-bat against the former Red Sox and Diamondbacks closer. Pittsburgh’s Kevin Kramer said he roomed with a submariner in college – former Cubs farmhand David Berg – yet even Rogers’ delivery caught him off-guard.
“That’s the lowest I’ve seen,” the rookie infielder said. “You try to find where his arm slot is during his warmup. Knowing that he comes from way down there, it’s just, all right, going to hunt elevation. If he throws something bottom of the zone, it’s going to fall out of the zone. If he throws something up, it’s going to come down.”
Kramer made the adjustment and became one of the seven hitters to get a hit off him, poking an infield single up the middle on his slider.
“It’s a weird at-bat,” he said.
What can make it weirder is the pitchers whom Rogers sandwiches. Throwing a low-80s fastball/sinker and low-70s slider, Rogers’ delivery is not all that sets him apart.
Friday, Tyler Beede and his mid-90s fastball and standout changeup bedeviled Marlins hitters for 6 1/3 innings. In came Rogers and a windup more resembling softball than baseball. His junk got five outs, and in came Shaun Anderson’s 96-mph fastball and 90-mph slider to finish them off.
“It’s great to come in after him. Those sliders he throws? They can probably swing twice before it gets to the plate,” said Anderson, who came up in the Boston organization when they had another funky pitcher in Steven Wright. “That speed, slow, speed thing, it works. I used to watch that with the Red Sox when it was knuckleball to 100 [mph].”
As with any non-traditional pitcher, the question will become whether this is more gimmick or indeed sustainable. If hitting off underhanded pitchers is so difficult, why don’t more throw submarine?
“I’ve seen many pitchers that have not done well try to come back and throw sidearm or throw different than they’re used to,” Walker said, “and it’s just not that easy.”
For Rogers, the delivery has been honed since he was in junior college. It’s less out of desperation than it is out of practicality; he tinkered with it to obey a coach, and it worked.
All these years later, it’s still working. Marlins infielder Isan Diaz saw five Rogers pitches last week before bouncing out meekly to second. He praised Rogers’ stuff, while wondering if it could last.
“When you see him over and over again, you get used to him,” Diaz said. “But seeing him for the first time, you see how difficult he really is.”