By Chris Haft
Special to The Examiner
The contortions that Tyler Rogers puts his body through is almost insect-like. Think “praying mantis.”
The Giants reliever is a submariner. Some call him a sidearmer. Regardless of terminology, he releases the ball at a much lower point than 99 percent of active big leaguers do. His fortunes have soared as his arm angle has dropped, making him integral to the Giants’ success.
Don’t ask Rogers to quit his adopted habit. “I always tell people that there’s a reason I don’t throw overhand. I’m not going to do it,” the 30-year-old said.
Rogers has no reason to consider throwing conventionally. The right-hander entered Thursday’s series opener at Arizona with a 1.40 ERA and a 0.931 WHIP in 37 appearances, earning himself a place among the National League’s top relievers. He also had nine saves as San Francisco’s part-time closer.
Rogers wasn’t selected for the NL squad that will oppose its American League counterparts in the July 13 All-Star Game, though Giants manager Gabe Kapler called him a worthy candidate. “I know what he does really well, and I know how dependable he’s been for us,” Kapler said.
Deception is essential to the sidearmers’ effectiveness, largely because few of them can throw overpoweringly hard. Rogers’ fastball, for instance, travels in the low 80-mph range. His slider is about 10 mph slower. But his superior control has enabled him to thrive. Rogers, who recorded a 4.50 ERA in 29 appearances for the Giants last year, attributed his improvement to his mastery of the slider.
Rogers’ love affair with sidearming began during his freshman year at Garden City (Kan.) Community College. “There was a guy on my team who was having some success dropping down,” Rogers recalled. “When I tried it, it felt pretty natural. I didn’t need an outing or an at-bat to tell me that I was going to stick with this. It’s something I went all-in with. I was going to either succeed with it or not succeed with it.”
Time shaped and sharpened Rogers’ technique. “It definitely wasn’t what it is now,” he said. “It was a slow progression of moving downward. One day I saw a picture of when I was in A ball. My hand was like six inches off the ground. I go, ‘I’m that low?’ In my mind it doesn’t feel like I’m that low. But I guess the submarine delivery kind of found me, so I’m not going to fight it.”
A handful of memorable pitchers made similar commitments. Kent Tekulve carved out a 16-year career as a sidewinding setup specialist, spending all but four of those seasons with Pittsburgh. Ted Abernathy employed an exaggerated submarining motion for 14 Major League seasons.
Closer to home, left-hander Javier Lopez dipped low in his delivery to help the Giants reach higher ground in the form of three World Series titles. Fellow relievers Dave Heaverlo (1975-77) and Frank Williams (1984-86) were mostly effective during their Giants tenures.
Since submariners are rare, they tend to root for each other. Rogers acknowledged feeling excited when right-hander Adam Cimber opened the 2018 season with San Diego. “I remember rooting for him so hard — not just for him to do well, but I wanted him to do well for the submariners’ community,” said Rogers, a 10th-round selection by the Giants in 2013. “I knew that if Adam Cimber does well, he’ll show everybody else that submarine/sidearmers can get big-league hitters out.”
It was in this spirit that Giants pitching coach Andrew Bailey arranged during one of the shutdowns in last year’s pandemic-plagued season to put Rogers in touch with former sidearmers Chad Bradford and Brad Ziegler. All three have Oakland A’s ties; Bailey and Ziegler were Oakland teammates.
“The biggest thing I told him — and I found this out kind of later in my career — was that you have to go to the mound with the confidence knowing that the hitter really doesn’t want to face you,” Ziegler said. “One thing about being a submariner is you get used a lot. You might pitch three out of every four days or four out of every five days. I might not feel great on that fourth day, but the hitter doesn’t know that. If I go out there with confidence, no matter how I’m feeling, I have an advantage over him the moment I step on the mound.”