Rogers heeds Rivera's advice in scoreless spring debut

Yanks righty says saves king told him to pound strike zone, don't fly open mechanically

Rogers heeds Rivera's advice in scoreless spring debut

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Esmil Rogers believes that he has the ability to succeed as a big league starter, but when the greatest closer in history pulled up a chair at his locker last week, the Yankees right-hander knew he had better hang on every word.

Mariano Rivera is in camp as a guest instructor, and the all-time saves leader had a spirited morning conversation with Rogers, outlining the mental and physical demands of pitching. Rogers said that he tried to apply some of Rivera's advice Thursday, when he hurled two scoreless innings against the Pirates.

"I just listened. I didn't say anything," Rogers said. "I just tried to hear it, to catch everything that he said. I've got the opportunity now to hear people like that, so I'm going to ask them any questions I can."

Rogers said that Rivera -- as well as Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez -- stressed the importance of pounding the strike zone, as well as not flying open mechanically with his left shoulder. Those words were ringing in Rogers' ears as he held the Bucs to a hit with no walks and one strikeout, marking his spring debut in a 2-1 Yankees win.

"Keep it on the line," Rogers said. "You saw today, I pounded the zone and hit the glove every time."

Rogers, 29, said that he jumped at the chance to return to the Yankees after appearing in 18 games (one start) for them last season, going 2-0 with a 4.68 ERA. Rogers inked a one-year, $750,000 deal in December.

"We think he's got good stuff. It's learning how to use it and become more consistent," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's got velocity, he's got a breaking ball, he's got a changeup. He has the ability to pitch. He was a position player who turned into a pitcher and sometimes those guys come a little later. He's still learning. He has to learn on the job and that's not so easy."

Girardi said that Rogers' flexibility should prove useful to the staff, especially since the Yankees have talked about the possibility of using a sixth starter at times to take stress off pitchers like CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka.

Rogers said that he was visited by pitching coach Larry Rothschild in the Dominican Republic this past winter, and is thankful for this fresh beginning after spending time in the Minors last season with the Blue Jays, who designated him for assignment in July.

"They gave me a great opportunity," Rogers said of the Yankees. "I got an opportunity to be back again. I think I have to do my best to keep it. Last year, what happened to me, going to the Minor Leagues and everything -- I don't want to pass my life again like that. I'm going to do everything I can to be here the rest of my life."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.