JUPITER, Fl. (KMOV.com) -- “Pitchability.” Trevor Rosenthal found the word after a pause, and decided it was the best descriptor for what he’s seeking from his repertoire.
“It’s definitely something where I’ve watched our starters pitch, I’ve really watched Carlos Martinez,” he said. “His ability to change speeds with the fastball I think is something I would like to improve in my game.”
Rosenthal’s fastball is a blistering 99 mile-per-hour pea when he’s at full strength. He’s found success by overpowering hitters, using the raw velocity to mask mistakes. His problem has never been speed, it’s been control.
“Just looking over his history, the times he’s had trouble is when he’s working deep counts with his fastball,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I would always say (his success comes from) controlling the counts with the fastball.”
Rosenthal has worked hard to develop dependable secondary pitches, something he can lean on if his fastball is erratic in an appearance. This spring he’s worked diligently on a tight power breaking ball, a sort of slider/cutter hybrid. He’s thrown his changeup with conviction as well. But his fastball has always been his primary weapon. As it goes, so does he.
The Cardinals endeavored to stretch him out this spring, having him prepare as a starter. The idea was, even in a worst-case scenario, he would be better equipped to throw multiple innings out of the bullpen.
But that strategy only works if he’s efficient. Thursday, he made his first start since 2012. He worked two innings, but faced 10 batters. Both frames he quickly got two outs, but lost command of his fastball and ended up bleeding pitches as he worked deep counts.
“I wasn’t real thrilled with how that went down,” he said afterward.
“In the first, he’s sitting at 12 pitches and two outs and has an opportunity to make something happen,” Matheny added. “No matter what role he has, that’s something he can be better at.”
One way to avoid that is “pitchability.” A more reliable repertoire means more options when a particular pitch is erratic.
After watching Martinez toy with his own heater to create different looks, Rosenthal sees an unexplored avenue.
Perhaps if 99 mph is missing the zone, backing off the gas pedal can be a solution.
But while they share similar top speeds, Martinez and Rosenthal’s fastballs are two very different pitches.
“Trevor is pretty straight. He’s going to his four-seam, but he has late life that rides high in the zone, which is unique to what he does,” Matheny said. “Carlos has the ability to throw 92, but it might sink a foot and a half. That's rare."
Martinez’s fastball, his two seamer, has “pitchability.” The manipulation of its speed is designed to improve movement, not control. Backing off a four seamer just makes it a slower fastball.
“You don’t want to end up throwing batting practice,” Matheny said.
Rosenthal’s best chance at efficient, repeatable success likely lies in his development of offspeed pitches. His sharp breaking ball is a compelling option. His slower, deeper curveball is another.
But the fact he’s open to investigating the possibilities of his best pitch is a good sign. It means he’s growing as a pitcher and looking to preempt the league’s adaptation to him. His role this season is still undefined. No one seems quite sure where he’ll fit best, and what he’ll look like when he gets there.
He still loves the idea of starting, but recognizes there’s work to be done if he wants to pitch multiple innings in any capacity. Maybe that’s pouring himself into a cutter, maybe it’s backing off his fastball. He has choices. That’s what excites him most.
“I’m really just open to being able to go out and pitch well. If I’m being effective I’m really going to enjoy that again,” he said. “at the beginning of the season, I feel like things are still taking shape. So you can’t ask for too much certainty right away.”