Mike Rizzo preached patience with Trevor Rosenthal when the Washington Nationals’ GM spoke to 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last Wednesday morning. Rosenthal, as he noted, is coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2017 that cost him all of 2018.
“Rosenthal has got  saves and a career [3.18] ERA,” Rizzo said. “He hasn’t pitched in two years, so allow him to knock a little rust off. You’ll remember, some of these closers that come in after Tommy John, either a year after or the second year after — Greg Holland is a prime example — he pitched poorly for the first month or so, and we got a hold of him and he pitched great for us, so let’s give ourselves a fair sample size.”
Rosenthal went out that afternoon and walked the only two batters he faced, both of whom came around to score.
He threw 12 pitches total in that appearance, four for strikes, and he was up to seven hitters faced without retiring a single batter this season, with all seven scoring after reaching base.
Here's every pitch Trevor Rosenthal has thrown this season. He's yet to retire a batter. pic.twitter.com/igJAw1Hly1— VHS (@VanHicklestein) April 8, 2019
Nationals’ Manager Davey Martinez said that day that he would try to get the 28-year-old in some lower-leverage situations as they tried to identify and rectify whatever issues were to blame for his early-season struggles.
“We’re going to address to that, we really are,” Martinez told reporters in the nation’s capital.
“I haven’t decided yet what we’re going to do with him, 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.”
With a six-run lead on Sunday, Martinez sent Rosenthal out again in the eighth inning of the series finale with the New York Mets in Citi Field ... and it didn’t go well.
Rosenthal threw a 95 MPH fastball high in the zone for a called first strike, but missed with a fastball low and in to left-handed hitting outfielder Dominic Smith, then hit Smith with the 1-1 fastball on his third offering.
Two wild pitches to Luis Guillorme moved Smith over to third, and the four-pitch walk in the at bat ended Rosenthal’s outing with his total up to nine batters faced without recording an out this season.
Only one of the seven pitches Rosenthal threw, the first, was a strike. He and Martinez had a long conversation on the mound before the manager took the ball and called Wander Suero in. Suero retired the next three batters without a run scoring.
“I’ve never been through anything quite like this, so it’s kind of tough,” Rosenthal said after the game, (a 12-9 win in which the Nationals had to use Sean Doolittle in the ninth, just two innings after they’d led, 12-1), as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“Just because physically I feel so good and so strong. Just the ball is not going exactly where I want it to. So I’m just pressing a little bit too much now to make a really good pitch.
“But I think it’s something that I’m going to work out of. I’m going to get there. Just hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.”
“We need him to throw strikes,” Martinez said after the game. “That’s our concern. He goes out there, we were up a bunch of runs, and he can’t find the plate, so I’ve got to think of 24 other guys that have been playing their hearts out today, so... but I told him after the game, ‘Hey, I believe in you, and I believe we’re going to fix this, we’ve just got to keep working and try to find what’s going on and get you right.’”
How they’ll get Rosenthal right without costing themselves games is the conundrum, of course.
“We’ll have to come up with something,” Martinez said. “We have to figure something out for him. Like I said, we’re trying to tweak something with his mechanics, 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. I tried to give guys off today that have been pitching quite a bit, and these guys got to pitch. But like I said, we’re going to need [Rosenthal], we really are, so we’ve got to get him right.”
Sad as it sounds, that first-pitch fastball he threw was a nice one though...
“He threw the first ball beautiful,” the second-year skipper said, “and I could tell that he just got quicker and quicker, and that’s something that we’ve also got to talk to him about, just kind of relaxing and getting pitch to pitch, we want him working on pitch to pitch, and not try to get ahead of himself. Like I said, he’s a high-energy guy, and his heart beats and he’s ready to go, but you can throw 100 all you want, but if you can’t throw strikes, it’s an issue.”