The Cards’ rotation this season was shaky at best. Heading into an important offseason, the team will surely be on the lookout for an upgrade to their starting pitching. Instead, the Cardinals should look internally, and transition Trevor Rosenthal into a starting role.
With the Cardinals’ season hanging in the balance on the first of October, Trevor Rosenthal stepped up and delivered a tremendous, 3-inning scoreless relief performance after an early exit by starting pitcher Michael Wacha. The team was able to complete an enormous 3-0 comeback in a 4-3 victory that, at the time, allowed them to keep pace in a heated NL Wild Card race.
It marked Rosenthal’s longest appearance since his rookie year, and signaled that he has the ability to provide length. Admittedly, Rosenthal’s days of being a lights out closer might be over. That doesn’t mean he can’t contribute in different ways, and the Cardinals front office and coaching staff, of all people, will surely know the best way to utilize a talent as special as Rosenthal.
GM John Mozeliak mentioned this as a possibility at the end of the season, saying “I imagine that’s something we’re going to talk about.” Rosenthal has spoken before about his desire to be a starting pitcher, and now is the time for such a move to be made. There’s obviously some barriers blocking this from being such a clear-cut decision. The Cardinals, aside from unquestioned ace Carlos Martinez, appear to have a glut of average to above-average starters each with varying levels of major league experience. With Seung-Hwan Oh having locked down the closer job thanks to his sterling performance this season, Rosenthal becomes a valuable piece that can be moved around the organization.
It’s not an unprecedented transition for a previously successful reliever to switch to a starting role. We’ve seen Chris Sale and C.J. Wilson thrive in a rotation after being shut-down relievers, but Joba Chamberlain and Neftali Feliz also provide a story of caution. In the case of Chamberlain and Feliz, it’s clear that their reliance on velocity was something that was an issue. Sale and Wilson both learned to be effective using pitch sequencing and locating to compensate for the decreased velocity that inevitably comes along with transitioning to a starting pitching role.
Rosenthal clearly has the ability to make those adjustments. Now, some will say that moving a player around after such a tumultuous season is the wrong move. The misconception here is that Rosenthal’s shoulder injury almost surely was the cause of his early season struggles, and his performance down the stretch proves that he remains more than capable of thriving in any role.
Being able to add a pitcher with the pedigree of Trevor Rosenthal to a rotation that includes Martinez, Adam Wainwright, and Alex Reyes among others would allow the team to focus more on improving other areas of the team (read: defense), perhaps by dealing from their organizational pitching depth.
Inexperience shouldn’t be considered an issue, either. Rosenthal has an extensive background of starting pitching. He registered almost 50 game started in the minors, including going 8-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 20 games started between AA and AAA in 2012. In usual fashion, the Cardinals wanted to ease him into the majors by starting him out in the bullpen, and the rest is history.
Honestly, no matter the decision made by the front office, having Trevor Rosenthal back at full capacity come 2017 is going to be an enormous boost for the ballclub. Having a player who has been on many successful teams and is playoff-tested will undoubtedly bring confidence to the entire team. But, just think about the impact he could have going deep into games with his upper 90’s heater instead of closing games out with it. It’s an exciting proposition, and one that needs to happen.
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