The St. Louis Cardinals were on the verge of sweeping the Atlanta Braves on Sunday and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny decided to gamble, using his closer Trevor Rosenthal for a fourth straight day and for the fifth time in a six-day stretch.Rosenthal had looked good in preserving three-run leads in each of the previous two days, with four strikeouts on 26 pitches in two dominant innings.
But the move backfired.
The Braves scored two runs in the ninth inning, one against Rosenthal and one on a Carlos Martinez wild pitch to score a come-from-behind win.
Though Rosenthal has only two blown saves this season, he’s lacked the effectiveness he’s had the previous two seasons. A couple of cases in point:
Rosenthal has now allowed at least one run in eight of his 19 appearances this season (42 percent of his games). Last season, he allowed runs in 16 of his 74 appearances, or about half as often.
Rosenthal blew this save on a bases-loaded walk to Jordan Schafer, who had walked only once in 29 plate appearances all season entering that matchup. It continued Rosenthal’s issues with walks this season. He’s now walked 14 in 21⅔ innings, only six fewer than he issued in 75⅓ innings in 2013.
In fairness to Rosenthal, his 3-2 pitch to Schafer was a pitch right at the bottom of the strike zone on which he didn’t get the call.
But even with that, Rosenthal has had some issues. One is in getting the high strike. His strike rate on fastballs thrown to the upper-third of the strike zone or above was 65 percent last season, but only 49 percent in 2014.
Rosenthal’s overall chase rate is down. It was 32 percent last season, but only 19 percent so far in 2014.
There had been some concerns about Rosenthal’s velocity, though his early drop-off seems to have dissipated. Rosenthal has had his two fastest average fastball velocities in the past four days (97.6 mph on Thursday, 97.2 on Sunday). He’s hit 99 mph on the radar gun only seven times this season after doing so 166 times in roughly four times as many pitches in 2013.
Matheny remained committed to Rosenthal on Sunday, perhaps because of his lack of faith in the Cardinals' other relievers. St. Louis relievers other than Rosenthal entered Sunday with a 2-6 record and 3.98 ERA. They were 18-15 with a 3.60 ERA last season.