Tigers LHP Rogers ready for first 2007 start

Jun 22, 2007 - 4:05 PM ATLANTA (Ticker) - The return of The Gambler Friday should increase the odds of the Detroit Tigers retaining their American League Central crown.

Kenny Rogers will make his first start of the season on Friday night, having overcome a blood clot in his shoulder.

It was a serious injury, and one that could have threatened his career. Instead, he is back earlier than projected and ready to face the Atlanta Braves in interleague play.

Rogers insists he was certain on returning.

"Always," Rogers said in the Detroit Free Press. "Once I found out what it was, and what the doctor and our trainers could do, I had no doubts about coming back."

Rogers has not pitched since his heroics in last October's World Series, when he started in Detroit's only win in the 4-1 series loss to St Louis.

He returns to a Detroit team which has won seven of its last 10 games to gain a share of the lead in the Central alongside the Cleveland Indians.

But getting their veteran ace back could lift the Tigers over the top down the stretch. Consider this a bumper mid-season trade.

"That's what we're hoping for," general manager Dave Dombrowski said on the team's official website. "If he pitches like he's capable of pitching, the answer would be yes."

As an innings-eater, Rogers not only boosts a rotation missing Nate Robertson, but should also take the pressure off a bullpen that may be without key setup man Joel Zumaya for the rest of the season.

"It can (have that effect)," Dombrowski said. "But it may not have that same effect right off the bat because he's not going to be ready to throw 110 pitches right away. Our bullpen has scuffled at times, but we have asked them to pitch more innings without Kenny and without Nate (at full strength recently)."

With Robertson due back next week, the Tigers have some decisions to make about their rotation, but Rogers will not be involved. His place is guaranteed.

Not everyone expected that to be the case when Rogers arrived in Detroit in 2006 having been banished from the Texas Rangers.

He had been in his third spell with the team where he began his career - and tossed a perfect game in 1994 - when things turned sour.

Rogers had been unhappy with media coverage of his ongoing contract talks with the team, and took his frustrations out on a pair of cameramen covering a batting practice.

He pushed them to the ground and kicked their cameras, with the whole episode being caught on camera.

Rogers was given a 20-game suspension and never got that contract extension. When he left Texas, it wasn't clear who would gamble on the The Gambler.

Detroit stepped in with a two-year $16 million contract, and has been richly rewarded. The 42-year-old won 17 games for the Tigers last year, sporting a 3.84 ERA. His finesse style was well suited to Comerica Park and Detroit's sound defensive infield.

He also provided a veteran presence on a rotation of talented but raw hurlers like Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander, who has been the ace in the absence of Rogers.

Rogers was a crucial part in the Tigers reaching the World Series last year. He followed up a superb regular season - in which he avoided his usual second-half swoon - by winning in both of his AL playoff starts without allowing a run.

Add the eight scoreless innings Rogers tossed in the World Series win, and he has an active streak of 23 post-season innings without a run.

That certainly silenced the critics who said he was washed up two years ago.

Now Rogers faces a fresh challenge, coming back into a season already in full swing and trying to get his groove back after such a serious injury.

"One thing you've got to guard against is that you can't expect him to come in here and pitch seven innings of no-hit ball every time," Leyland said. "That's not going to happen."

Rogers is keeping expectations in check too.

"I want to go out there and find out what I've got," he said. "Whether it's as good as I hope for or not, I'm willing to do the work to find a way to win. I'd love to hit the ground running, but that very seldom happens.

"If I didn't think I could go six or seven innings the first time out, I wouldn't be going out there."

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