A pitcher’s tender elbow is nothing to ignore, as Grayslake Central’s Chris Rogers knows.
So the senior left-hander navigated the three days leading up to the Class 3A Schaumburg Supersectional with an abundance of caution after his abbreviated three-inning appearance Thursday.
“I just had a little tightness,” Rogers said. “I went to the trainer this morning, got that stretch in and heated it a little bit. I started warming up, and I gave coach (Troy Whalen) the OK sign. I think I made the right choice.”
Indeed, Rogers was back on the mound on Monday, and he went the distance as the Rams edged Fenwick 2-1 at Wintrust Field.
The Lindenwood commit allowed just an unearned run and three hits while striking out three and walking one as Grayslake Central (32-8) advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 2014. The Rams will play Effingham (22-15) at Duly Health & Care Field in Joliet at 10 a.m. Friday.
Rogers retired the last 12 batters he faced. But his sterling performance against Fenwick (17-17) was by no means out of the ordinary. He’s 8-1 with a 1.23 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 48 innings.
“In games like these, you’ve got to have alpha dogs and alpha males,” Whalen said. “Chris put us on his back today, and he got better as the game went on and got more comfortable.”
Rogers started the third inning by walking a batter and allowing a single. That prompted a visit from Whalen, who was a bit concerned after seeing a dip in velocity.
“I think early on, you’re throwing on adrenaline,” Whalen said. “Once that adrenaline wears off, you kind of hit a wall. I wanted to make sure he was OK, and from that moment, he was dialed in.”
After Rogers put Whalen’s concerns to rest, they implemented a change in how they planned to attack hitters.
“When he walked out, I was a little shaky,” Rogers said. “Not anything I couldn’t handle. But he said that these guys were hunting fastballs, so we should pitch backward. I told him I could throw anything.”
So Fenwick got the full brunt of Rogers’ impressive repertoire. His ability to spot off-speed pitches early in the count was a shift, and the fastballs he did throw had their usual added life to them.
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“His ball has late life, so it’s got that secondary carry as it gets closer to the plate,” Whalen said. “Unless it flattens out, you don’t see a lot of good swings on him.”
Speaking of swings, Rogers furnished the biggest one of the game, a two-run double in the bottom of the third. The blast came right after Riley Policht lined into a double play to center with the bases loaded and no outs, and it erased Fenwick’s 1-0 lead.
“My approach played a big role in that,” Rogers said. “Our hitting coach said they would throw me a fastball on the first pitch and to get ready to jump on it. The first one I got was right down the middle, and I shot it to right field.”
Rogers’ hit didn’t surprise Policht, who had just returned to the dugout. Rogers will enter the state semifinals hitting .340 and leading the team with 31 RBIs and 21 runs.
“He lives in those moments. Those moments are always for him,” Policht said. “He’s able to really hit. He hit a ball today in batting practice, maybe 400 feet, and all he did was throw his hands at it.”
His left arm came through with flying colors too.
Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.