Wide variety: Rosenthal commanding the zone as he showcases seco - KMOV.com

Wide variety: Rosenthal commanding the zone as he showcases secondary pitches

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JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- Perhaps the most interesting storyline for the Cardinals in spring stars Trevor Rosenthal as the lead. With news the franchise single season saves record holder would enter camp preparing as a starter, his chances at cracking the rotation has been a favorite topic for fans and media alike.

His likely role will be as the vaunted super reliever- a pitcher with top-level stuff who can throw in any inning and for any amount of time. After teams watched Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller provide such services in the World Series to great effect, it was unsurprising relievers with similar abilities saw their market value skyrocket.

In Rosenthal, the Cardinals felt they had a cost-controlled, in-house candidate for the job. Monday, he looked capable of throwing in any inning they want. Even the first.

“It looked like he had command of four pitches. Really, he made it look easy for two innings,” said bench coach David Bell, who took over Mike Matheny’s managerial duties for the home split squad action. “It’s going to take those secondary pitches. He showed all of them today – the cutter, the changeup, the slider. He’s got a curveball, too.”

Rosenthal was in complete control in his spring debut, stifling the Nationals over six outs. He allowed one hit, but denied hitters solid contact throughout his work, largely by keeping them off balance with pitches they hadn't seen before.

“I think just as we’ve worked through camp, I’ve tried to get a better feel for secondary pitches. Commanding them in the zone is what I’d been working on,” Rosenthal said. “Today was a good step in the right direction in terms of throwing strikes with secondary stuff. I was happy with that and I felt like I was able to command my fastball on both sides of the plate.”

His fastball, long the primary threat in his toolbox, looked effortless. He poured it over either edge of the plate, often parking it at the bottom of strike zone. In contrast to last season, hitters watched counts turn against them as they were dealt pitches too tough to swing at but too good to take. 

While his elite fastball will always be the leading man, the supporting characters are earning more screen time.

Rosenthal throws a changeup and a 12-6 curveball, and has a shorter breaking pitch that essentially behaves like a cutter or a tight slider. If that comes as a surprise, you’re not alone. For his career, the 26-year-old has thrown 77 percent fastballs and 15 percent changeups. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for other pitches. But Monday his short breaking pitch was frequent and effective, even against some of the most dangerous hitters in the National League.

Bryce Harper cracked a bat on a weak grounder, caused by Rosenthal sliding a pitch in on his hands. Daniel Murphy, who hit .347 and led the league in slugging and OPS last season, fell victim to a sequence of pitches that looked for more polished than the should in February.

“I threw him a couple changeups and then a slider, which I think was the last pitch,” Rosenthal said, underplaying the significance of befuddling one of the best hitters in baseball without using his best pitch.

After back-to-back changeups down and in to the lefty, the Rosenthal threw a tight breaking ball that came in just below 90 miles per hour. Having missed the first change, Murphy was out ahead of the second, primed for fastball instead. When Rosenthal threw his final pitch of the at bat, it had the speed of a changeup and Murphy appeared to have it timed up. But his bat missed completely as the ball dropped out of its way toward the dirt.  

“I think, just throwing breaking balls and changeups and being able to repeat them in spots I want to throw them. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly where I want to be, but I’m definitely- with the mindset I have- headed in the right direction,” Rosenthal said.

He’s more likely to get there this season. Not only does the starter-style preparation give him extra innings to explore more pitches, his arm is finally healthy too. After a strong spring, he felt something wasn’t right when he warmed up in the cold Pittsburgh air in the season’s opening series. After an extended outing in Atlanta, he knew whatever was wrong wasn’t going away.

“Those little things that I noticed right away. I wasn’t feeling 100 percent. It just never really got better as I tried to battle through it,” he said. “The health wasn’t there. I think it was mainly the forearm strain that caused me a lot of trouble with being able to manipulate the baseball.”

That trouble thus far hasn’t followed him into 2017. His repertoire is now completely open for business and he’s throwing everything he has with conviction and confidence.

He likely earned himself a longer outing next time around, though plans on that front remain quiet.

“I think that’s going to be a question for Mike and [pitching coach Derek Lilliquist],” Bell said. “But I think he made it easy to take the next step, whatever that is, the way he threw today.”

Maybe 'Trevor Rosenthal: starter' isn’t so far-fetched.

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