Davey Martinez had a message for Trevor Rosenthal when he sent the Nationals’ reliever out on Friday night in the highest leverage situation the veteran reliever had been used in since returning to Washington’s bullpen following a stint on the Injured List.
“‘This is your moment,’” Martinez said. “‘Enjoy it.’”
Rosenthal, 29, faced 10 batters to start this season before he recorded an out, and he went on the 10-Day Injured List with a viral infection back on April 26th, at which point the seven-year veteran, who signed a 1-year/$7M free agent deal this winter, after working his way back from Tommy John surgery in 2017, had given up seven hits, nine walks, and 12 runs, all earned, in seven games and three innings pitched, over which he’d also hit three batters and thrown five wild pitches.
Martinez worked him back in slowly, but at some point they were going to have to test the right-hander, and with a few relievers unavailable after Wednesday’s doubleheader in D.C., and long night on Thursday, it was the first opportunity Rosenthal got in a real meaningful situation.
With a runner on second and two out in the eighth and the Nationals up 4-3, Martinez sent Rosenthal out to face Braves’ rookie Austin Riley after Tony Sipp got the first two outs, and he got a groundout to third with a 99 MPH 1-2 fastball for out No. 3 of the scoreless inning.
Rosenthal hadn’t pitched in six days, as the Nationals’ second-year skipper was using him in low-leverage situations, and he’d given up a hit, two walks, and a run in his previous outing.
So how did his manager know he was up for the challenge?
“One, you never know,” Martinez said after the Nationals held on for the 4-3 win.
“This game is a game of inches, as we all know, but here’s a guy like I said before, he’s done it, he understands big moments, and it was a perfect spot for him, two outs, we have a young hitter that’s really good, aggressive hitter, and I said to myself, ‘This is going to be his moment. If Sipp can get us two outs, he’s going to come in there and shut the door,’ and he did.”
“We can’t just go with three guys,” Martinez said at another point, reiterating what he’s said about needing to be able to use all of the relievers in the bullpen.
“I mean all these guys have to pitch and they’ve got to do their job and they proved it tonight.”
Rosenthal, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, said after that game that he just happy to be able to contribute.
“That’s what I want to do. I want to be here. I want to be a part of these wins. It was a lot of fun.”
His focus when he took the mound, he said, was to just trust in the fact that, as Martinez said, he’s done it before.
“Just trust my stuff,” Rosenthal said. “Go out there and do what I’ve been doing forever.
“I just control what I can control, and good things will happen. We had good defense on display tonight. Even if they put it in play, I knew we’d have a good chance.”
Martinez turned to Rosenthal again with a four-run lead in the seventh on Saturday night, and he walked the first two batters he faced, then fell behind 3-0 on the third, drawing a round of boos from the crowd, and his third straight walk loaded the bases and ended his outing after 15 pitches, just three of them strikes.
Tanner Rainey took over on the mound and issued the fourth straight walk, forcing in a run, and a first-pitch fastball to the next batter, Freddie Freeman was lined to center for a base-clearing double that tied things up at 8-8.
The Nationals ended up losing 13-9.
After the game, Rosenthal said he’d reviewed footage of his outing and seen mechanical things he needed to tweak and thought he’d be able to adjust to get his timing right and synced back up.
Martinez said he didn’t know what the next step will be.
“I’ll have to kind of just figure it out tonight and see. Like I said, yesterday he seemed a little bit poised, today he seemed antsy out there. Some of those pitches I guess were close, I didn’t see them yet, but I’ll have to look and see where we’re at.”
“Just couldn’t find the plate. I mean, really. He looked a little kind of anxious today a little bit. Just couldn’t find the plate.”
So what’s the next step with Rosenthal? Will the Nationals keep running him out there in low-leverage situations? Will Rosenthal, after three months, finally figure something out which allows him to start pitching like he did when he was closing games in St. Louis?