The Cincinnati Reds came to Oracle Park leading MLB in runs, and through two chilly games, they have mostly lived up to the hype, scoring nine runs and hitting four homers. But they had absolutely no answers in the eighth inning Tuesday, when the heart of their lineup saw funky Tyler Rogers for the first time.
Rogers struck out Nicholas Castellanos, Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas, all on rising sliders. Castellanos and Moustakas had particularly ugly at-bats, with both swinging at pitches well out of the zone in a game the Giants won 7-6.
Rogers threw 16 pitches and just one was put in play: Eugenio Suarez lofted a soft fly ball to left that had a hit probability of 11 percent but dropped because Austin Slater was playing over in the gap. It was about as dominating a performance as you'll see from a pitcher who isn't sitting triple digits, and it had teammates shaking their heads.
"He's going to hit a lefty in the face one day and the guy is probably going to swing at it, which is crazy to think about, but it's probably going to happen," starting pitcher Kevin Gausman said. "He has that deception and it's a look that you don't see very often. It's very tough, especially when he's locked in like he was tonight."
Giants fans have gotten used to the submarine delivery, and the rest of the NL West is starting to become more familiar. But Rogers still is going to have a huge advantage in 2021. He was called up in September 2019, and during the 2020 season the Giants did not play any NL Central or East teams. For the most part, those hitters will be facing Rogers for the first time, and it's a big adjustment.
"It probably is a little bit of a surprise factor," Rogers said. "But at the same time I threw strikes tonight, so it doesn't matter if a guy has seen me 10 times or hasn't seen me at all. If you're in the zone with two pitches, you're going to be okay."
The main weapon in Tuesday's wild win was a slider the Giants want Rogers to use up-and-in on left-handed batters. He said it wasn't very good the first week of the season, but it's starting to come around. It's the pitch he threw seven times in the eighth for six strikes. The Red swung at it four times and came up with nothing but air on three of those attempts.
"Just throwing it more and seeing what kind of sights to use and actually seeing results helps a lot," Rogers said.
Manager Gabe Kapler, who has used Rogers as his eighth-inning setup man, said there have been two keys early on. He thinks Buster Posey is getting more comfortable with the arsenal and how to attack hitters when Rogers is on the mound, and credited Rogers with having the command to keep the Reds off-balance. Of Rogers' 16 pitches, 13 were strikes.
"If hitters aren't acclimated to that pitch it's a tough pitch to judge," Kapler said. "We always have a lot of confidence when Rog goes out there, but on nights like tonight when he's especially deceptive and the stuff is moving pretty well and he's able to locate where he wants, he's especially good."