In an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier this Spring, Mike Rizzo told the show’s hosts how the Washington Nationals ended up signing right-hander Trevor Rosenthal to a 1-year/$7M free agent deal after watching the veteran in a showcase staged to prove he was healthy and ready to return following a year-plus out rehabbing after Tommy John surgery in 2017.
“I’ve seen enough of Rosenthal over the years to know that I’d rather have him with us than against us,” Rizzo said.
“He’s been remarkable in his career, got hurt, Tommy John, rehabbed it really, really well, 18 months later we had one of our best scouts go out there and see him pitch, and he was really, really excited about him, and a guy who when I read that scout, he very rarely gets as excited as he was, so when we hung up the phone about three hours later we had Rosenthal signed.”
Rosenthal was expected to slot in as the set-up man to closer Sean Doolittle, but his early-season struggles (9 batters faced, 0 retired before Wednesday night), forced the Nationals to change those plans over the first weeks of the 2019 campaign, with manager Davey Martinez telling reporters that it would be low-leverage situations for the righty until he sorted things out.
“I haven’t decided yet what we’re going to do with him,” Martinez said last week, “... but it would be safe to say maybe we use him earlier in the game and get him to relax a little bit, but I told him today, ‘You’re a big part of our bullpen, and you’re going to help us a win a lot of games, so keep your head up, you’re going to be right back out there here soon, so keep your head up.’”
In an appearance on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning, Rizzo discussed the situation, and the work that Rosenthal and the Nats’ coaches were doing to try to get him on track.
He was asked if there was any consideration given to sending Rosenthal down to one of the minor league affiliates to get sorted out, if they even could, but explained that it was not an option, really.
“He’s earned the right to have to — he would have to allow us to option him down,” Rizzo explained.
“He does have options left, but he has the service time where we have to get his consent to do it. He has — he’s struggled, you can’t sugarcoat it, he’s spraying his fastball, and his mechanics are out of whack, and for relief pitchers, especially in the big leagues, it’s really, really difficult to work on things during the season because you may have to have the opportunity to pitch in that particular game, so it’s not like a starting pitcher where you know you have four days off and you can work on something diligently in-between your starts. Relievers are a little different.”
“We’re trying to tweak something with his mechanics,” the Nats’ skipper said last week, “... got to keep working on it, but it’s tough because up here you’ve got so many guys in the bullpen, you need everybody.”
That pressure, of having a reliever you’re not comfortable throwing in high-leverage spots, has added to the urgency for Rosenthal to find a fix sooner than later.
“He’s working extremely hard,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got our pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, and Henry Blanco, our bullpen coach, working with him, and we’re looking at film, we’re tweaking some parts of his delivery, we’re going to send some of our pitching gurus from our minor leagues that have seen him in the past, like Spin Williams, [now the organization’s Senior Advisor of Player Development] he’s going to meet us when we get home and kind of walk us through what he thinks are some issues and that type of thing, and unfortunately for [Rosenthal], is the fact that it’s kind of a catch-22, you’re not pitching well, so you don’t pitch, and when you don’t pitch you don’t get much feel.”
No one with Washington is giving up on Rosenthal yet, however, Rizzo stressed.
“This guy is too important to us,” Rizzo said. “He’s been too good in his career, and the good news about Trevor is that his arm has come back, his durability is there, his velocity is there, and with those Tommy John guys, and we’ve had a lot of them over the years, and I’ve had a lot of them, the last thing to come is the command, and he’s struggling mightily with his mechanics which affects his command, which makes it a little more difficult to pitch him in some leverage situations.
“We’re certainly not giving up, he’s not giving up on himself, this guy has pitched in big-time games in the not-so-distant past, and he’s going to help us as this season unfolds.”
With a 15-0 lead in Philadelphia last night, Rosenthal took the mound in the bottom of the ninth and issued a five-pitch walk to the first batter he faced, before he struck Andrew Knapp out with a 100 MPH, 2-2 fastball to record his first out of the season.
It didn’t exactly go smoothly after that though. Rosenthal walked the next two batters he faced, loading the bases, but after a groundout brought the first walk of the inning, and a total of 33 pitches, he recorded the third and final out of the inning.
He threw just 17 of 33 pitches for strikes, though he averaged 99.1 MPH with his fastball.
His manager’s takeaway from the outing?
“He got three outs,” Martinez said after the 15-1 win. “That’s the key. He got three outs, so let’s continue to build on that and move on.”