Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports
St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny rode closer Trevor Rosenthal hard this past week. Rosenthal pitched on May 11, 13, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Closers since the 1970’s have pitched four days in a row, but it isn’t common and it isn’t done frequently. The reason: declining performance in consecutive, subsequent outings.
Matheny asked Trevor Rosenthal to hold a one-run lead Sunday in St. Louis against the Atlanta Braves and he couldn’t do it. Rosenthal came into the game in the ninth inning with a 5-4 lead. He faced six hitters and got two outs. The Braves sandwiched a single, double, an intentional walk, and an unintentional walk around those outs while Rosenthal was on the mound. Matheny replaced him with Carlos Martinez after Rosenthal walked Jordan Schafer to drive in the tying run.
Rosenthal trains to throw 50 pitches maximum as a one-inning pitcher. That takes into account some rest, and stretching him out for two high-stress innings. This would be at the outer fringes of any real-life outing by Trevor Rosenthal.
Rosenthal threw 97 pitches this week before today. He may throw 20 warm-up pitches in the bullpen. Add 120 pitches–20 times six–and the pitch count rises to 217. A player is allowed to fail. However, was it wise to use Rosenthal today–was it fair to him, and the best strategy for the team’s success?
We do know that with two outs and two on, and after throwing two balls to pinch-hitter Evan Gattis, Matheny had Rosenthal put Gattis on first base. Matheny gave up the right-left platoon advantage, as he was staying with Rosenthal, and the next hitter batted from the left side. That batter, Schafer, worked a walk.
Matheny had other options in the bullpen. He could have replaced Rosenthal at any point within the inning. He didn’t have to allow Gattis to take the base. There’s less room for error for his pitchers with the bases loaded, and he chose that situation. Matheny made many decisions within that time frame. Finally, we don’t know what would have happened with a different pitcher.
Matheny wants to win and thinks Rosenthal at the end of a game with a one-run lead offers him their best chance. However, the likelihood that there was a better chance than normal that he would fail had to be a consideration. Matheny could say he preferred a tired Rosenthal to a ready Sam Freeman, for example. That’s his prerogative.
Fans don’t expect robots who go by the book, or genius savants who live on hunches in the dugout. What they do expect is for the manager to put his players in positions to succeed more often than not. That’s it. Nobody would’ve cared had Matheny used someone other than Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth inning Sunday. Nobody that matters in the standings, that is.