CHICAGO — The last month has been something of a rush for Mark Rogers.

Since the Milwaukee Brewers promoted him from the minor leagues on July 28, Rogers has earned his first two victories as a major-league pitcher — and made stops in three states in four days so he could be with his wife, Kerrie, when she gave birth to their first child (7 pounds, 20 inches) on Aug. 13.
“Crazy, right?” the native of Orrs Island, Maine, said with a huge smile.

Mom and daughter — Ellyette Bay Rogers — are healthy, he’s pleased to report. And so is Mark Rogers. Now 26, he hasn’t been able to say that often during a pro baseball career that’s been derailed by two surgeries on his right shoulder and surgery on his wrists.

Now the 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-hander is starting to realize his much-anticipated potential. He ranks in the top 10 in the National League in strikeouts per nine innings (9.62) and average fastball velocity (93.6 mph), on the same list with proven stars such as Stephen Strasburg and Tim Lincecum.

“I feel really good,” he said Monday in the visitors’ dugout at Wrigley Field before the Brewers opened a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs. “I still feel strong. We’re almost in September now, but I feel better now than I did at the beginning of the season. That’s exciting for me.”

In 2004, Rogers was the fifth player selected in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft. No Maine high school player had ever been drafted in the first round — and none has since.

But while others who were taken in that year’s first round have become stars (Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers was voted the American League’s Most Valuable Player last season), Rogers has toiled mostly in the minor leagues — when he’s been able to throw a baseball at all.

“It has to be very difficult for a player like him when he sees others in the same draft class pitching in the big leagues,” said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who drafted Rogers out of Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham. “He’s had to work hard through it. I think it’s all paid off now.”

In six starts for Milwaukee this summer, Rogers has a 2-1 record and a 4.28 earned run average. He has struck out 36 batters while allowing 12 walks in 33 2/3 innings. Opponents are batting just .244 against him.

In his most recent appearance, Sunday in Pittsburgh, Rogers threw five shutout innings, hit a double and scored a run to help lead the Brewers to a 7-0 win over the Pirates. But it was a struggle.

Rogers threw 91 pitches through four innings and walked the leadoff batter in the fifth inning on four pitches before settling down to earn the victory.

“(Rogers’) biggest hurdle is minimizing the pitch count, getting ahead of guys,” said Jonathan Lucroy, who has been the catcher in all of Rogers’ starts this season. “When’s able to do that, he’s gonna be real special. He’s really working hard at it. He’s getting better every time we go out there.”

But what impresses Lucroy — and the Brewers’ front office — about Rogers is something that can’t be taught: Throwing heat. The average velocity of Rogers’ fastball is 93.6 mph — in the top five among National League starting pitchers this season.

“When you’re hitting mid-90s, for a starter, that’s a pretty special thing,” Lucroy said. “Not a lot of guys can do that.”

Rogers doesn’t lack for confidence in his approach.

“Until somebody proves to me they’re going to hit a fastball, be on my pitches, I really don’t want to throw my third- or fourth-best pitch up there,” Rogers said. “As long as I can stay mechanically the way I know I can be, it’s just a matter of trusting my stuff.”

Confidence — and determination — have been key for Rogers. He missed all of the 2007 and 2008 seasons after the shoulder surgeries. Then, after a late-season call-up by the Brewers in 2010, his 2011 season was a bust.

He bounced among three minor-league teams while suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, which required season-ending surgery in August 2011.

“I never pitched one game last year when I felt 100 percent,” he said. “It was really frustrating, especially the way 2010 ended. That was difficult to take. It makes it that much more rewarding for me now.”

Melvin and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke have discussed ending Rogers’ 2012 season early to avoid risking another injury. Rogers reached a career high of 129 innings (95 and a third while pitching for Triple-A Nashville to start the season) in his start on Sunday. He’s scheduled to pitch Friday against the Pirates in Milwaukee, and he appears to fit into bigger plans for the team’s future.

“There is a point where you’ve got to be careful, coming off the surgeries that he’s had,” Melvin said. “Because next year it’s wide open for spots on our starting (pitching) staff.”

Though he’s in his ninth season in the Brewers’ organization, Rogers lacks the major-league service time to qualify for free agency or even file for salary arbitration this winter.

His goal for next season is simply to enter spring training healthy and earn a spot in the Brewers’ starting rotation.

Injuries — or having to come back from them — have never been a concern for Rogers.

“Nobody wants to get hurt,” he said. “But I think you have to get over it really quick. Especially in this game.

“I think if I ever had those thoughts creep in, I may not be here right now,” he said. “I knew if I was healthy, I could pitch here.”

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