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Published: Monday, 2/18/2008

Rogers approaches practice like rookie

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Kenny Rogers was 17-8 for the AL champ Tigers in 2006, but injuries led to a 3-4 record last season in limited appearances. Kenny Rogers was 17-8 for the AL champ Tigers in 2006, but injuries led to a 3-4 record last season in limited appearances.
DUANE BURLESON / AP Enlarge

LAKELAND, Fla. - Kenny Rogers threw a pitch and pivoted to get back on the mound.

Detroit Tigers pitching coach Chuck Hernandez stepped between Rogers and the bullpen catcher, ending the session yesterday.

"Get out of here!" Hernandez shouted.

Rogers reluctantly walked away with sweat on his brow and grass stains on his knees.

"I just keep going until Chuck stops me," Rogers said with a smile.

Rogers has spent three-plus years of his life at spring training - a fact he said was "scary," - and still enjoys rolling around on the infield like a kid during pitchers' fielding practice.

In fact, Rogers said that's his favorite part.

"I love PFP [pitcher's fielding practice]," he said. "Why, I don't know. After I'm done, I don't enjoy the feeling."

Rogers, 43, is the third-oldest player under contract in the majors, trailing Philadelphia's Jamie Moyer by two years and Arizona's Randy Johnson by one.

Rogers looks spry on the field, but acknowledged he isn't behind the scenes.

"Once I get down on that couch in the afternoon, it's hard to get up," he said.

The Tigers, who re-signed Rogers to a one-year deal, are counting on him bouncing back after an injury-plagued season.

He started just 11 games last year - his fewest since becoming a starter in 1993 - because of two stays on the disabled list.

Just before the season began, Rogers had surgery to remove a blood clot from his left shoulder and was on the DL until late June. He was sidelined again a month later with a left-elbow injury, which an exam later revealed didn't include any tearing.

Rogers is happy to report his shoulder and elbow are relatively healthy.

"But nothing I have works the way you want it to," he said. "That's the way it is, unfortunately."

Teammate Nate Robertson isn't buying it.

"I call him the biggest sandbagger on the team because he downplays everything he does - his golf game, fielding his position, playing cards," Robertson said.

Rogers is 210-143 with a 4.19 ERA over 3,000-plus innings spanning 19 seasons. He's a four-time all-star - earning spots on the team in 2006 and 2005 - and has won all five of his gold gloves this decade.

He made his debut with the Texas Rangers in 1989, seven years after they drafted the outfielder out of Plant City (Fla.) High School in the 39th round.

Texas turned Rogers into a pitcher and he went on to play for the Yankees, Oakland, the Mets and Minnesota. After returning for a third stint with the Rangers, he signed a two-year, $16 million deal with Detroit before the 2006 season.

He went 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA during his first season in Detroit and then helped the franchise reach the World Series for the first time since 1984. Rogers held the Yankees, Athletics and St. Louis without a run, becoming the first pitcher to have three scoreless starts in one postseason since Christy Mathewson did it 1905.

Injuries led to a 3-4 record last year.



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