It was just one outing. Yes. It was just 14 pitches. Sure. It was a low-leverage situation with Washington’s Nationals trailing 5-0 when he took the mound. But whatever. It was a good enough appearance that Trevor Rosenthal deserves some love, especially after the way the season started for the hard-throwing right-hander, who struggled to the point that it got a bit uncomfortable for everyone involved.
Rosenthal, who signed a 1-year/$8M free agent deal with the Nationals this winter, went on the 10-Day IL for a viral infection after he gave up seven hits, nine walks, and 12 ER in seven appearances and three innings pitched at the start of the season.
He faced 10 batters before recording an out. He didn’t have any command of his fastball. It looked like it was going to be a disaster of a signing, and with the bullpen as a whole really, really bad early this season, it looked even worse when Rosenthal couldn’t get outs.
He returned, following a rehab stint at Double-A, to throw a scoreless inning in Chicago this week, working around a walk, and Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday that he saw positives signs from the 29-year-old.
“It looked like in his last couple of outings in Harrisburg on his rehab that he commanded his breaking ball better than his fastball,” Rizzo said.
“He kind of showed that last night and induced some soft contact and after the initial walk, looked like he found the strike zone pretty good, and when he’s in the strike zone his stuff is really good, so he’s an upper-90s, 100 MPH fastball, and he’s got a devastating breaking pitch, but strike one is the most important pitch in baseball and he has to master that before he can move on to some higher-leverage situations.”
Rizzo said he was impressed with the work Rosenthal did on the mound against the White Sox and as he rehabbed at Double-A in the Nationals’ system.
For a pitcher who had Tommy John surgery in 2017, and worked his way back, it had to be tough to start like he did and have to try to rebuild all over again.
“His game looks like — he’s a big physical horse,” Rizzo said. “He’s in as good a shape as anybody that we’ve got, so it’s not lack of work, it’s not lack of effort, it’s this guy grinds it out on the back fields and in Harrisburg for a long time and this guy is a former All-Star pitcher and an All-Star closer on championship-caliber clubs, so he took a big leap of faith with himself to go down and right his ship. He needs some mechanical tweaks. He hadn’t pitched in 18 months competitively before Spring Training this year and the remnants showed that his mechanics weren’t where we wanted them to be so he’s improved those, he’s gone down and worked extremely hard with [Michael] Tejera, our Double-A pitching coach, and we kind of see a guy that’s still trying to figure out command of the fastball.”
And that fastball command, Rizzo continued, is often the last thing to come when pitchers return from Tommy John surgery.
“The Tommy John guys,” he said, “... and we’ve got through a boatload of them, so we know these protocols pretty good, the command of the pitches is the last thing that usually comes, and some guys are 14 months, 12-14 month rehab guys from Tommy John and some guys are 18-20 months, so it’s something that you have to kind of rework the way you use your arm and I think the most important thing is that you have to really, you can’t think about it, you’ve got to just trust it that the ligament is fine when you let that thing go, and snap off a slider or let a 100 MPH fastball go, you have to just know it and not worry about where it’s going and how it’s going to feel when it leaves my fingertips. So I think that it’s all part of the process, and hopefully Trevor is over the hump and can start helping the bullpen improve, because some guys have stepped up and the bullpen has pitched much, much better in the month of June, they’ve been really solid, so we’ve been upbeat about that.”
Rizzo said he didn’t think it was the yips, at least initially, for Rosenthal, though it did turn into a psychological thing as well.
“No, I think this is a physical ailment that he had to overcome. He had the surgery, and then when you start off so poorly, that’s when it gets into your psyche and into your mind and we had to fight that battle on both fronts, the Tommy John rehab type of thing and then also the confidence factor that you can rely on these things to get it done.”
Which is why Rosenthal’s appearance, even with the Nationals behind 5-0 to the D-backs in the ninth, was such a welcome outing for the right-hander.
Rosenthal threw 14 pitches, 12 for strikes, five swinging, as he struck out the first two batters he faced and got a fly to left for out No. 3.
“If there was one thing positive,” to take from the loss, Nats’ manager Davey Martinez said, the outing by Rosenthal, “... was very encouraging. And he looked — even in his warm-ups, he looked very relaxed. Really nice. Ball was coming out really, really nice, and he was pumping strikes today, and that was great to see.”
“It was a good night,” Rosenthal told reporters. “Obviously I felt good with my command, and I had an efficient inning, so yeah, definitely happy with how it went tonight.”
What was different this time out?
“I’ve just been trying not to let my emotions get the best of me like they were earlier,” the former St. Louis Cardinals’ closer said.
“I was just really excited to be here, so just trying to stick to my game plan, and trust my teammates. We’ve got a really good defensive team, and good catchers, so just trying to work with them and fit in and be another piece of the puzzle to get some wins.”
Did the less-impressive, but still relatively successful outing against the White Sox help to build his confidence?
“It felt really similar,” Rosenthal said.
“Tried not to change too much, and that’s kind of where I’m at right now, just trying to be consistent and not get too high or too low, and just keep going out there, keep building, and hopefully we can keep rolling like we have been and I can contribute and help us to finish off games.”
Is he ready to get test himself in some higher-leverage situations?
“I’m always confident in myself,” he said, “... and I’ll do whatever is asked of me and go out there and compete for the team, and that’s what I love to do. Obviously it will take time and situations that will arise in the future, but we’ve got a good group of guys and to get where we want to be it’s going to take every last one of us, so I’m just hoping to be a part of that.”