Inspired by teammates, Rodgers 'taking notes'

Inspired by teammates, Rodgers 'taking notes'

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel made his Major League debut in 2012 at 24 years old, a fledgling lefty who had twice as many wins as losses and a 5.20 ERA after two years in the big leagues. Two years later, he won the American League Cy Young Award.

If nothing else, that should serve as inspiration for the power of persistence for pitcher Brady Rodgers, a 26-year-old right-hander who was roughed up in his big league debut this past year. That debut came after Rodgers dominated at Triple-A Fresno, being named the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year after going 12-4 with a 2.86 ERA with 12 walks and 116 strikeouts in 132 innings.

Rodgers could be a late bloomer like Keuchel, but he'll have to crack a crowded rotation first. Keuchel cut his teeth on 100-loss Astros teams in need of pitching. The 2017 Astros appear to have only one opening in the rotation heading into the season, with Mike Fiers and Joe Musgrove the frontrunners for that spot.

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Rodgers struck out one and gave up a run on Sunday in the Astros' 3-2 win over the Braves. How he fits into the picture remains to be seen, but it's clear he has nothing left to prove at Triple-A.

"My job is to show I can get guys out at a higher level than Triple-A," Rodgers said after his first Grapefruit League start on Sunday against the Braves.

Rodgers has a vast arsenal, but he doesn't blow anyone away with his fastball. His slider is his best pitch, and he relies on excellent control -- he walked only 102 batters in 558 2/3 Minor League innings since being drafted in the third round out of Arizona State in 2012.

"I think Brady is just looking to be a little bit more comfortable in his own skin at this level and around this team," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's been in camp a couple of years, he's been in the big leagues once, but it's really pitch usage for him. He can pitch to any game plan because of the stuff, his command, his control. Using it correctly is very important. He doesn't have wipeout velocity or things like that. He's a true pitcher by definition, and so he's got to use his pitches correctly and shape them to be most effective."

Rodgers spent this offseason working out with Keuchel, as well as Jose Altuve, Lance McCullers Jr. and Marwin Gonzalez, in Houston. He said Keuchel is one of the first players to the complex each day this spring. Keuchel's dedication has Rodgers striving to be his best, too.

"Being able to go Minute Maid every single day was extremely beneficial for me, to see how hard these guys work, and it shows why Altuve is a two-time batting champ and Keuchel has won a Cy Young and he's got a few Gold Gloves," he said. "They're just hard workers. I'm just taking notes in the corner and watching them do what they do."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.