JUPITER, Fla. • Want-to-be Cardinals starter Trevor Rosenthal didn’t miss many chances at last month’s Winter Warm-Up and baseball writers’ dinner to tweak manager Mike Matheny of his desire to one day take his leave of the bullpen, where Rosenthal has become an instant star.
“I’ve got to give him a hard time,” joked Rosenthal after an informal workout here Tuesday, a day ahead of the club’s official reporting date for batterymen.
“I’m excited to have a position, really, at this point,” said the 23-year-old Rosenthal. But, he appears gradually to be warming to this closer thing and doesn’t seem to mind being in it for the long haul.
“To have an opportunity to do that for a long time would be pretty special,” said Rosenthal.
“Starting would be a different challenge. Coming into the organization, I always kind of envisioned that being the end result.
“Not that the bullpen is any worse. It’s just kind of the picture I’ve always had — of having an opportunity to be a starter like Chris Carpenter. He’s a guy I grew up looking up to and watching him pitch amazing games.
“But having an opportunity to pitch in a World Series game (as a reliever) was a pretty cool thing, too. To have that adrenaline and to come in and to have the chance to close things out and be the last guy standing is cool.”
And, in theory, profitable.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about money,” said Rosenthal. “It’s what’s best for the team. The bullpen is a whole different thing. And it’s an awesome challenge.
“From the day I got called up, when they told me, ‘Hey, you’re going to St. Louis,’ I was like, ‘What day am I starting?’ But it’s just one of those things you do to help out a team, like a Matt Carpenter going to play second (base), versus playing third, or whatever’s comfortable. You’re just doing what they ask of you. You’re just happy to be in the lineup.”
After conditioning himself to be a starter last spring, Rosenthal was told near the end of camp, even before 2012 closer Jason Motte suffered a season-ending elbow injury, that he would be going to the bullpen. The process will be different this spring.
Although he worked out at the Central Institute for Human Performance in the St. Louis area in the offseason, Rosenthal did not begin throwing as early as he normally has after the season because, (a) the season lasted a month longer than it did for most teams and (b) because he’s not going to be starting.
“I know I’m not going to throw 100 pitches,” Rosenthal said.
The competition for starting spots is even more intense than last spring, with Michael Wacha and, potentially, Carlos Martinez, in the mix and with Jaime Garcia coming back from a shoulder injury. So perhaps Rosenthal is better off in the bullpen anyway, although he cites the considerable depth there, too, especially with Motte returning at some point early in the season or even perhaps on Opening Day, as pitching coach Derek Lilliquist hopes.
“There’s some healthy competition all around,” Rosenthal said. “We have so many talented pitchers that you don’t take anything for granted. Having two or even three closers in the bullpen probably won’t be a bad thing. If a guy needs a day off, you’ve got a guy, a pretty good guy, who can pick up the slack.
“If you’ve got five closers and eight starters, you should have a pretty good year.”
Rosenthal has just three regular-season saves to his credit, all in September last year after he replaced struggling Edward Mujica as the closer. But he piled up four in the postseason, with at least one in each of the Cardinals’ three series.
So far, he has been Mariano Rivera in the postseason. Counting the 2012 playoffs, Rosenthal has thrown 20 1/3 scoreless postseason innings, allowing just six hits and striking out 33 while walking only three unintentionally.
“He’s been phenomenal,” said Lilliquist.
“The first three saves I had were for a total of like six outs,” Rosenthal said. “But the first one against the (Pittsburgh) Pirates in the playoffs, I could feel it. I was a little more excited than normal.
“And it still hasn’t hit me that I got to pitch in the World Series,” Rosenthal said. “Especially in Boston, you get that feeling that it’s history. Geez, how many players have played baseball and not played in the World Series? It was really special.
“Growing up, the Red Sox and the Yankees were the two baseball teams you thought of. Seeing guys like (Jon) Lester and (John) Lackey and David Ortiz ... it was pretty cool.
“And the ball park (Fenway Park) was actually a lot nicer than I had envisioned. You see Wrigley Field (in Chicago) all the time and it’s not the same at all.”
There have been numerous instances of successful setup men not being able to handle the stress of the ninth inning, with Mitchell Boggs apparently suffering that fate early last season with the Cardinals. But Rosenthal, like Motte, attempts to subscribe to the mantra that the ninth is no different than the preceding frames.
Addressing Rosenthal’s brief, but large, success as a closer, Lilliquist said, “That’s a testament to his desire and his ability to get the last out — and that’s a different animal for a lot of people. He says, ‘I’m getting my three outs and I don’t care where it is.’ It just so happens it may be the last three outs of the game with the winning run on base.”
Lilliquist was as anxious as anyone else to see how Rosenthal would react to any extra pressure, real or imagined, of pitching the ninth inning. Lilliquist’s curiosity quickly was satisfied.
“From where he was in the bullpen to getting the last out of the game, he seemed to have a different gear,” said Lilliquist.
Motte admits to not really knowing Rosenthal’s mindset for the ninth inning. “If he strikes out three people, they’ll ask him, ‘What were you thinking?’’ said Motte.
“It might be, ‘Well, nothing. Should I not have done that?’ For me, the less I think about stuff, the better. Make that pitch in that situation. If you make it, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s great, too. You get the ball back and get to do it all over again.’’
Rosenthal said, “I try to keep the same mindset. The only difference was that you could look over at the bench — I don’t know if it was because everybody wanted to go home — but they were all up on the top step and it was like, ‘Don’t mess this up.’’’
Even though catcher Yadier Molina sometimes would call for as many as 20 fastballs in succession, Rosenthal does have other pitches, including a cutter, which Carpenter, Lilliquist and Garcia suggested he learn, and a changeup which really throws a hitter off his guard.
“I’m open to anything, to have stuff in my back pocket,” said Rosenthal.
“Having been notified I was going to be in the bullpen was not what I’d envisioned forever,’’ Rosenthal added. “But ... at the same time, it’s no letdown.”
Outfielder Oscar Taveras arrived several days early from the Dominican Republic and without visa issues. Taveras, who had ankle surgery last year, won’t be cleared to run until later in the week but will hit today. ... Burly first baseman Matt Adams also came in early, ahead of the position-player reporting date of Feb. 17 and looked more streamlined. “It was more (a loss of) body fat than weight,” said Adams, who said also that his balky right elbow had healed without surgery. ... General manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny were among the mid-afternoon arrivals on a private plane from St. Louis. ... Some of the new players and their numbers for this season: Mark Ellis, 3; Peter Bourjos, 8; Jhonny Peralta, 27. Adams has gone from No. 53 to No. 32 and Taveras will be sporting No. 77. ... Several pitchers got in their throwing on a near 80-degree day at the Cardinals’ complex.