For a guy who just had shoulder surgery that will force him to miss the 2007 season, Brewers pitching prospect Mark Rogers is remarkably upbeat.
Rogers, Milwaukee's first-round draft pick (No. 5 overall) in 2004, was surprisingly happy even though he spent most of his 21st birthday on Jan. 30 with his arm in a sling. That's because for the first time in months, his arm actually feels good and he sees a light at the end of the tunnel -- even if it won't be until the 2008 season.
"It's a big relief finding out what was wrong in there," Rogers said from Arizona following a rehab session with Brewers physical therapist Kenny Patterson. "It's a big relief knowing what was wrong and having it taken care of it."
What was wrong, it turned out, was a partial tear in the front of his labrum. It took from July, when he was first shut down during the Florida State League season, until just recently for the injury to be properly diagnosed.
"The original MRI in Florida wasn't read as real major," Rogers said. "It wasn't a great MRI. It was foggy, and it didn't have my arm over my head like they wanted it [for the second MRI]. It was hard to tell what was going on in there."
Because that initial MRI didn't show any real damage, Rogers tried to rehab his shoulder and even began throwing again. He appeared in three Rookie-level Arizona League games in August and even though he felt better at first, his arm felt unstable and he still had pain. Eventually, Rogers went to have another opinion and the second MRI showed the tear.
"During the early half of the year, my arm felt tight," Rogers said. "I didn't think it was a big deal. You're always going to have things going on there. I kept getting stretched out. I hit that point where I couldn't do it anymore.
"I started the rehab, it started to feel better, then I realized it wasn't getting any better. But I thought, 'Maybe I just need to get past this mental block and keep throwing and things will take care of themselves.'"
They didn't. After the second MRI, he had surgery on Jan. 12. The tear, termed a flap tear, wasn't as bad as it could have been. It was a Type II tear (Type IV is the worst; Type I, the smallest) and it needed just two stitches in the front of his labrum to fix. Meanwhile, the back of Rogers' shoulder was lifted up because the ligaments had been worn away and caused the shoulder to become unstable.
The pain, it was decided, came from bursitis on the top of his shoulder. That was shaved down and cut out, giving his shoulder room to move.
The results have been almost immediate. Just a couple of weeks after surgery, Rogers already has good range of motion. He started rehabbing the day following surgery, beginning with very simple movements with the physical therapist to get the blood flowing into the shoulder for an hour each day. The work also would help stretch it out and eliminate scar tissue.
He's moved on to slightly more extensive work, doing internal and external rotations into a ball, providing some resistance and allowing his rotator cuff to build back up. He's now able to, using a rope and a set of pulleys, pull his throwing arm up to a 90-degree angle above his head without difficulty. He is, by all measures, ahead of schedule.
Obviously, Rogers wasn't taken with that No. 5 pick to move his shoulder back and forth. The Maine phenom was a first-rounder because of his ability to throw in the mid-to-upper 90s from 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate.
Everyone is eager to see Rogers on the mound again. Right when he was shut down the first time, it appeared he was figuring some things out with his mechanics and pitching like the top-of-the-rotation prospect the Brewers saw in him. He's always had the power stuff -- as evidenced by his 245 strikeouts in 200 1/3 innings -- but the command had been elusive. It was starting to come together with Class A Advanced Brevard County when the shoulder started acting up.
While the Brewers are anxious to have Rogers continue his development, they also want to proceed with caution. He is, after all, just 21, and both sides are keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to see Rogers pitch in Milwaukee, not get him back on the mound competitively in 2007. Depending on how Rogers responds to the physical therapy, a pitcher typically begins throwing somewhere between three and five months following surgery. There's hope Rogers will be ready to see game action in instructs next fall, but he is reluctant to put himself on any set schedule.
"They want to take their time, and I do too," Rogers said. "I want to go through this one time and one time only. I don't want to rush back just to make a couple of starts at the end of the year.
"It's tough, but you have to think of the long-term effects of the soulder. I don't see the benefit of rushing back and risking injury again. It feels great right now, and I can't put a timetable on it. It all depends on how my body responds."