Photo: Keith Rogalla threw four no-hit innings in his first start of the season with the Burlington Bees. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
By John Bohnenkamp
It was almost like Keith Rogalla hadn’t been gone for more than a year.
OK, so it was probably about 40 degrees warmer. Other than that…
Rogalla made his first appearance at Community Field since suffering an elbow injury almost 16 months ago, throwing four no-hit innings, a memorable night in a mostly forgettable game for the Burlington Bees.
The Bees held Quad Cities without a hit for six innings, then surrendered all of the River Bandits’ runs in the final three innings of a 7-6 loss in Thursday’s Class A Midwest League game.
Alex Holderbach’s two-run home run off reliever Mayky Perez (0-5) with two outs in the ninth inning capped the stunning rally on a night when the Bees appeared to have shaken off the funk of the previous week and a half.
Rogalla, a 12th-round pick for the Los Angeles Angels in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft, walked one and struck out four in his seventh start of the season. He threw 48 pitches, 31 for strikes, a brisk performance.
“That was nice, huh?” Bees manager Jack Howell said. “Four innings, no hits, four (strikeouts). Man. And worked quick, went right at guys. Pounded the zone.”
Rogalla was hurt on April 13, 2018, in a game against the River Bandits at Community Field. He had thrown his 33rd pitch of the night, the 80th pitch of his season, when he grabbed his elbow in pain.
Rogalla underwent Tommy John surgery later that month, and didn’t pitch again until this season. He pitched in five games with the Angels’ Arizona League team, going 0-3 with an 18.47 earned run average. He then went to the Rookie League team in Orem, where he was 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA in two starts.
This night was almost perfect. Rogalla retired the first seven hitters before walking Trey Dawson. Dawson was thrown out trying to steal second, and Rogalla then retired the next four hitters, finishing his night having faced the minimum 12 batters.
“It was kind of funny,” Rogalla said. “I remembered the last time, when I got hurt, it was against Quad Cities, and Harrison (Wenson) was catching me. So it brought back a little memory.
“It feels good to be back. The whole goal was to get here by the end of the year, and get some competitive innings again. Get healthy, get back out there, get acclimated to competition again.”
“I had no idea,” Howell said when asked what he expected from Rogalla. “I had no idea what he had been doing. I knew he was going to be at four innings, 60 pitches. And if you see something shaky…”
Did he see anything shaky?
“No,” Howell said. “He was really good.”
“In the ‘pen, stuff wasn’t working great,” Rogalla said. “Sometimes, that’s when the best outings happen. I knew I had good command of my fastball, which is always key for me. Harry called a really good game, we were in sync. Just kind of kept rolling from there.”
The Bees were rolling until they weren’t.
Photo: Rayneldy Rosario hits a two-run double in the sixth inning. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)
Burlington, which had lost eight of its previous 10 games, got two runs in the first on RBI singles from Francisco Del Valle and Nonie Williams, then added four runs in the sixth on a two-run double from Reyneldy Rosario and a two-run single by Livan Soto.
But Quad Cities wasn’t going away. They got a run in the seventh off reliever Dylan King, who had retired the first six hitters he had faced, then got two more runs in the eighth off him.
Perez got the final out of the eighth, then got the first out of the ninth. Austin Dennis doubled, then Freudis Nova struck out for the second out of the inning.
Dennis scored on a wild pitch when Ramiro Rodriguez walked. Grae Kessinger slammed a double into the left-center field gap to score Rodriguez to cut the lead to 6-5. Then Holderbach powered a long home run to left field, his fifth of the season.
“Gosh dang it,” Howell said. “You’re in the seventh inning, up 6-0, and lose 7-6. Not much you can say.”
The positive of the night was Rogalla.
“It’s been tough, to say the least,” he said. “It’s been a long journey. I had never gotten injured before, so having that come about was a little tough to deal with at first. But having a good support system, with family and with the Angels, just seeing there’s light at the end of the tunnel, allowed me to get through. Yeah, it was challenging at times. It’s a long process. But just happy to be back and be healthy.
“You try to stay positive. Obviously those thoughts creep in your head, you know. What’s going to happen when you come back? Are you going to be the same (pitcher)? I just tried to keep a positive mindset, try to trust what the trainers were saying. Just trust that process, and hope that the work pays off.”