Trevor Rosenthal picked up his fourth save of the season Sunday, which is one more than he had in the entire regular season last year.
They have not necessarily come easy.
Rosenthal needed 25 pitches to get through the ninth inning Sunday to close out the Cardinals’ 6-4 win over the Cubs. In that inning, he allowed a run, giving up two hits (one a triple) and hitting a batter. This came on the heels of his appearance Friday night, when he threw 22 pitches over two innings, one of which was a three-run homer as the Cubs won 6-3 in 11 innings.
“I was happy to get out of here with a win,” Rosenthal said. “Obviously, I’d like to get it done a little easier.”
The differences between Rosenthal last season, when he went through 10 postseason games without allowing a run, and this season, when his ERA is 7.36, are slight, but apparently significant. He’s throwing his breaking ball more and the Cardinals liked what they saw of that Sunday, but his fastball is a mile-per-hour or so slower and his placement an inch or so off.
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“He’s just not as sharp,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He does have a real nice start, he gets ahead 0-2, then leaves too much in the middle of the plate. That’s just execution and having a real good idea. Even though he’s thinking the right thing, when you don’t feel as tight as normal, as sharp as normal, you make those mistakes. That’s not something you see him do very often.
“You still see good life. I saw some better breaking pitches from the side. I need to see them on video, but from the side, it looked like some of his breaking pitches were better than what we’ve seen so far this year, which is encouraging. He just needs to get a little confidence going and make those tough pitches when he needs to.”
“The ball is coming out good,” pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said. “Our big three relievers are a tick down in terms of velocity. … He’s just unlucky in terms of a mistake here getting hit and a mistake there gets hit. For the most part today, he threw a couple of nice cutters. His changeup was there.”
Rosenthal’s fastball this year is averaging 96.2 mph, according to baseball’s Pitch F/x system, down from 98.1 last season. This April, he’s averaging 95.9 mph on his fastball, the slowest of his career. Last October, he was averaging 98.2 mph.
“There’s nothing I can put my finger on right yet,” Lilliquist said, “other than it’s early. We haven’t had ideal conditions yet where it’s hot, everybody is sweaty and you feel a little more comfortable.”
Rosenthal said everything felt the same on his end.
“I felt good,” he said. “My arm’s felt good. I feel the same. I’m worried about throwing strikes. I’m not worried about the velocity.”
And, as Matheny points out, Rosenthal’s fastball is still pretty fast.
“He’s still hitting 96 from time to time,” the manager said. “That’s nothing to turn your head to. But there’s a couple (miles per hour) off there he would normally have. That’s nothing to be that alerted to or that worried about, but it’s something we do notice and want to make sure we’re on top of. Guys go through all kinds of different phases throughout the season. There are guys who feel they don’t have the life early on and it’s just not a time to panic. They’re going to continue to do their work and hopefully get back to where they normally are.”
One upshot of that missing mile or two is that hitters have been able to get their bats on those pitches just a little better, leading to more foul balls, which is leading to more pitches. In three of his past four appearances, Rosenthal has thrown at least 22 pitches.
“It happens,” Rosenthal said. “I’d like to go out and throw three pitches every time. Sometimes you have to battle a little bit.”