Washington Nationals: Trevor Rosenthal’s performance key for the bullpen
By Blake Finney
The Washington Nationals bullpen has been a long-running Achilles heel for the team. To change that narrative, they need Trevor Rosenthal at his best.
The Washington Nationals have been let down by a shaky bullpen far more times than fans are comfortable remembering. If they want to flip the script and leave those concerns behind, the player who needs to step up the most is Trevor Rosenthal.
Currently, the Nationals late innings will likely contain a combination of All-Star Sean Doolittle, as well as new additions Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough. But the former Cardinal has the most to prove coming off of Tommy John surgery in 2019.
We all know we can expect elite-level performance from Doolittle in the ninth inning, assuming he has put the foot issue behind him. Meanwhile, Barraclough is a proven setup man, as proven by his career 5.11 ERA in the ninth inning compared to a 2.76 ERA in all other innings.
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But Rosenthal, on the other hand, is much more of a boom-or-bust pickup for the Nats that could either give them a dominant one-two-three punch, or could leave them scrambling for consistency in the late innings again. Based on the contract that the team gave him, the front office is clearly confident that the former will play out.
During his years in St. Louis, the right-hander posted a 2.99 ERA in 325 innings with 435 strikeouts and 121 saves in 141 opportunities. For a short time, he was also among the games elite closers as he put up back-to-back seasons with at least 45 saves as the Cardinals’ closer.
However, in his last two seasons, he was very up-and-down before TJ surgery caused him to miss all of 2018. In 2016 and 2017, he recorded a 3.89 ERA while temporarily losing his closer’s job Seunghwan Oh in that time as he struggled for consistency.
Those inconsistencies came before his injury and now presents a new challenge as he aims to bounce back to his old dominant self. Back at his workout in early October, Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reported that Rosenthal was consistently 98mph and even hit triple digits at least once as he showcased for several major league teams.
While the fact that his velocity is back up to its normal levels will inspire confidence, he’ll still need to shake off the rust. He’ll be hoping that he can have a similar season to Greg Holland who pitched for the Colorado Rockies in his first year back and was an All-Star before tailing off in the second half. That means innings management, an area manager Dave Martinez struggled in last year, will be key to getting the best out of Rosenthal
If the Nationals can get a dominant Rosenthal anchoring the eighth inning and particularly high-leverage spots, then everything else should slide into place with some of the other arms in the bullpen ready to slide into roles that suit their current ability. That would mean that they have another fearsome triplet just as they did with Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler in 2016 when the bullpen ended as a strength.
There’s no doubt that the Washington Nationals are taking a risk on Trevor Rosenthal in 2019. However, it’s one with significant upside that could pay off in a big way should they make the postseason.