Brian Feldman | @BFeldman
ST. LOUIS - ?By all accounts, Cards closer Trevor Rosenthal had a pretty good year last year. He finished 2nd in the National League with 45 saves and struck out 87 batters in just over 70 innings during the regular season. Considering there weren’t a lot of other options for the 9th inning the 24-year old did quite well.
And then you factor in how Rosenthal – as long as it seems like he’s been here – had never been a big league closer for a full season before 2014. So that was a first.
But anyone who watches Cardinal baseball religiously knows that Rosenthal hardly had easy innings. His 1.41 WHIP (essentially base runners per inning) is a reflection of the 42 walks he issued. That number spiked to 2.73 in the postseason.
The leadoff batter for Rosenthal has been the biggest hurdle. When he gets the first hitter out, he’s usually fine. But let that leadoff hitter on base? Trouble brews. That formula is pretty standard for all pitchers actually.
"That's personally a focus for 2015 is attacking hitters, trying to be more efficient,” Rosenthal said at the Winter Warm-Up. “Trying to get the pitch count down. I'm not saying that too heavily because the other team is getting paid too. It's a tough job and it's not easy and I'm happy to get it down in any form possible. I think just at times not trying to give up the big hit too early. Not being completely confident or convicted in being too fine might be the issue. Not falling behind in the count. At the same time it's not an easy thing to do."
With Pat Neshek (Houston) and Jason Motte (Chicago) gone via free agency there’s going to be a different look in the bullpen behind Rosenthal. Jordan Walden comes over from Atlanta in the Jason Heyward-Shelby Miller trade and while he does have some closer experience, he’s much more of a set-up guy. Fellow addition Matt Belisle projects in middle relief as well.
"I think (Walden) and (Matt) Belisle are going to be great. Being with (former teammates Jason) Motte and (Pat) Neshek and (Edward) Mujica and (John) Axford all these guys that I've had the opportunity to be with I've come to learn that these guys have a ton of information and stuff they learned from different teammates. That's the coolest part of any job is just being around your peers and learning from their success and failures," Rosenthal said.
Getting a little bit more of a break could be beneficial for the Cardinals closer, too. He pitched in 72 games this year. For comparisons sake, Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel (arguably the best closer in the game) pitched in just 63. Sure, some of that has to do with how good a team is and how many save opportunities one gets.
But 72 games in the first full season pitching the 9th? That’s got to be tough. A slightly lesser workload – like letting Walden take the 9th if too many save situations arise in a short span – in addition to more experience could lead to even more success for Rosenthal this year.
As good as he was already, even better sounds downright scary.