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Rogers eager to build upon all-star summer

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This is the second of a six-part season preview, highlighting some of UK's top returnees before the season opener on Feb. 17 in Spartanburg, S.C., against Wofford. Also see the Sunday story on Michael Williams.

Taylor Rogers showed up in Lexington as a skinny freshman in 2010 from Littleton, Colo., but it didn't take long for him to make an impact.

In his first career collegiate appearance, Rogers dominated the scrappy hitters of West Virginia on opening weekend at the 2010 Carravelle Resort Invitational. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound southpaw carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning to earn Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week accolades.

"That first start was something that got me started off good. In the season opener, it is always a different feeling to get out and face another team," Rogers said. "Being a freshman, they are bigger and stronger than you are. It was nice to get some confidence and know that I could do it. It was a good stepping stone into my college career."

After that start, Rogers solidified himself as a productive member of UK's weekend pitching staff, making 26 weekend starts over his first two seasons at UK. Overall, Rogers has been a fixture in the rotation, tossing 160 innings in his two-year career, with 88 strikeouts.

As a freshman, Rogers led UK in starts and innings pitched, tossing 83 innings for an injury-crippled UK pitching staff that entered the season counting on first-round pick James Paxton to anchor the rotation. When Paxton withdrew from classes in the spring, Rogers and then UK sophomore Alex Meyer became the stalwarts in the staff.

Being the main guy as an 18-year old in the rugged SEC in no easy task, as Rogers experienced the typical ups and downs of an SEC freshman. He finished his 2010 season with a 4-7 record and a 6.40 ERA, numbers that were inflated by some rough starts.

"First of all it was a lot of fun," Rogers said about leading the team in starts as a freshman. "It was a lot of fun to be able to go out there and compete every weekend with the team. It was something that I figured you just did, you go out and compete every weekend against the best hitters in the nation."

While he did have the occasional ERA-inflating outing, Rogers served notice to the SEC with several dynamic outings, including a complete-game loss at Vanderbilt, where he allowed one earned run in a 2-0 loss. During his freshman season Rogers ran up a stretch of 35 consecutive innings without issuing a walk, at times displaying the kind of pinpoint fastball control and dominating breaking ball that led to his collegiate debut as a weekend starter.

After spending the 2011 offseason adding strength and working in the classroom in Lexington, Rogers entered his sophomore season as part of a three-man weekend staff that included Meyer and righty Jordan Cooper. Rogers again had moments of brilliance during the year but finished with a 3-7 record and a 5.14 ERA.

After scuffling on the weekends late in the year, UK head coach Gary Henderson inserted him into a midweek starting role, his first career non-weekend start. Rogers responded with a brilliant outing to return to the weekend rotation in the final series at No. 4 Florida.

Knowing Rogers' unlimited potential, his need for additional innings and summer baseball experience, Henderson arranged for a spot in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League for Rogers. The moment Rogers arrived at the Harwich Mariners he excelled, turning in a 4-4, 1.72 ERA in nine starts in the summer, striking out 40 in 47 innings and leading the Mariners to the CCBL Championship Series.

"The Cape (Cod League) was awesome," Rogers said. "It was cool to see a different perspective of baseball. To see how everyone else does things daily and how they can be succcessful. I got to learn a lot, a lot more about myself and how things worked better with me, my mechanics and making the ball move more. It is really going to be good for me this spring."

Rogers earned the starting nod in the CCBL All-Star Game played at historic Fenway Park in July. With Henderson watching proudly from the stands, Rogers picked up the win in the prestigious game.

"It helps you grow as a pitcher, but so much more than that. It helps you grow as a man," Rogers said on Henderson's coaching style. "You can relate the stuff that he talks about with baseball to your everyday life. After hearing it for three years, it is starting to get ingrained in my brain. Everything that he says is correct. I know that may be hard to hear at times when you are a freshman coming in. After seeing what he has taught me, using it on the mound at UK and in the Cape, he knows what he is talking about. When you buy in it can do nothing but help you. We are fortunate to have coach Henderson."

Entering his junior season, Rogers has bagged a bevy of accomplishments in his two seasons. As a third-year talent on the UK roster, Rogers will be relied upon to anchor the pitching staff - a role he was thrust into as an underclassman. Rated as the 20th-best SEC prospect in the 2012 MLB Draft by Baseball America and boosted by the confidence-building summer in the Cape Cod League, Rogers is poised for a great junior season.

"It is different, this year than the last few years," Rogers said about the depth of the pitching staff. "It is nice to have all those lefties to use. It is nice to have them on the staff and it is very clear that we are going to have a deep bullpen and be able to compete every single day. If there is a day you may not have you best stuff, you can rely on them to come in and get the job done."

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