In spite of the fact that he missed the entire 2018 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Washington Nationals were willing (and eager, apparently, considering how quickly it happened once free agency began) to sign 28-year-old veteran reliever Trevor Rosenthal to a 1-year/$6M deal which includes an option for 2020 and incentives that could earn the one-time St. Louis Cardinals’ closer as much as $28-30 over the next two seasons according to reports.
Rosenthal held a workout/showcase for interested parties, and as he explained during a call with reporters on Monday, the interest which had been there the previous Spring and in the 2018 campaign, picked up after scouts saw how far he’d come in his rehab.
“We received a lot of calls early in the Spring,” he explained, “and then quite a few calls right around the trade deadline and we just kept relaying the information to teams that we were waiting until I was fully healthy and cleared by the doctor, and then after the workout even, we had a really good showing from all 30 teams, and it wasn’t but a few hours after we were done that people were already calling and wanting to progress conversations.”
Rosenthal’s deal was made official over the weekend, after he visited the Nationals and got his physical out of the way.
While he said he wasn’t necessarily familiar with or aware of the organization’s history with Tommy John pitchers, Rosenthal said he was impressed with his first visit with the medical staff when he met with the Nationals.
“I’m still learning a lot about the organization, but I really have no idea,” he admitted. “I’ve seen, obviously their starting pitching staff has been really impressive over the years, and I’m looking forward to being around those guys and learning from them.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of value in that for me and my career.
“But then just being in D.C. briefly last week for my medical evaluations. and getting to meet the medical staff, they really seemed very ahead of the curve and had some things that they were talking to me about or testing in me that I had never seen before, or had such a value to it from an outside source, so I am really looking forward to being involved in that, and hopefully their progression will help me with the surgery and the recovery.”
After about 15 months of rehab, Rosenthal was ready to go and showed enough when he held the showcase (during which he reportedly was in the high-90s again with his fastball) to convince the Nationals (and others) he was worth the risk.
“I completed the rehab protocol from the surgery and from the surgeon and I executed that plan all summer,” Rosenthal said.
“Worked up to facing hitters and live batting practice and worked through that progression, and then I essentially got to a place where I had completed everything.”
It was, he acknowledged, a long, deliberate process, though he said it was actually smooth.
“It was a pretty good experience for me,” he said. “By the time I started throwing I was really chomping at the bit to get back into it and I had done so [many] exercises and rehabilitation work that my arm probably felt the best it’s felt in the last five or six years, so I was excited to try it out and also kind of let down when I did do my first throwing session and I realized I was only allowed to throw it from a maximum of 40 feet and for only so many throws.
“I was like, ‘Really, that was it?’ I’m used to throwing really hard for an extended amount of time every single day, so it seemed just like it wasn’t enough work, and it took a few months to get to a point where I was happy with the amount that I was allowed to throw just through the protocol of the program.”
“Everything just went so well,” Rosenthal continued, “... my arm felt good through the whole process. I’ve just been excited, and later in this year, over the last few months, when I could finally just start throwing normal with no restrictions, it’s just been a lot of fun, and it’s made me really excited for this year knowing how good I feel. I feel like the results are going to be really good.”
Now that he’s through the rehab process, and knows where he’s going to pitch in 2019, the right-hander said he was excited to just get started again.
“I think going into it, I had such clear plan from the doctor, from my agency, and then from the trainers I was working with and the physical therapist that did my rehab, for me I just took it day by day, really, and looking back now, I definitely wouldn’t want to do it again, but I just feel like mentally I was in such a good place, that the days just went by. Just worked hard every day, and it wasn’t too bad. I just trusted the process and everything worked out well, but it’s something looking back now and now that I have a team and know where I’m going to be — like it gives me anxiety thinking about everything that I went through to get to where I’m at. So I definitely wouldn’t want to do it again, but through the whole process it was just enjoying it, enjoying the time with my family as well, not having to travel and all those different things that the season demands. It’s been good.”
There was a point in his rehab, last July, during the All-Star Break, when he thought he could potentially contribute somewhere, but he ultimately decided to stick with the plan and wait for the 2019 campaign.
What had him thinking he might be ready at that point? And what was it like, after six years in the majors, to have to sit and watch a season play out without being able to be out there on the mound?
“It was definitely, like I said, it was hard watching guys play later in the year just because I felt like I could really compete,” Rosenthal said.
“I felt like the level that I was performing at on my own was equal to or above what I was seeing from my peers,” he explained, “... so that made me a little bit anxious, and then postseason baseball, I’ve been lucky enough to play in some postseasons that all those feelings kind of get stirred up at that time, and it really made me want to be a part of that again.
“So I think looking forward, I’ll just have a little bit different perspective after not being involved for a year, of just maybe a little bit more - I don’t know - appreciation, or viewing each day and each opportunity in a little bit different light going forward.
“I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I’m definitely excited to step foot back into a major league clubhouse and being with the Nationals, back into that clubhouse, and with those guys, and obviously super-grateful that the organization wants to give me that opportunity to show them how helpful I can be.”
Were there any positives to having to step back or anything he learned during the rehab process?
“Having the time to physically prepare for this season and learn about my body, and going through the surgery, just being more in-tune to my shoulder strength and arm strength and everything else and implement hopefully some new recovery techniques in the years to come that will help me perform better and more consistently, so I think those are all things that were bright spots and that will have a big impact in the future.”