ST. LOUIS -- What was an uncertain fit for Trevor Rosenthal in Spring Training has evolved into a familiar one. So impressed by Rosenthal's improved command and effectiveness, the Cardinals have transitioned from viewing Rosenthal as a multiple-inning or middle reliever to seeing him as a viable late-inning option.
Rosenthal collected his second hold of the season by pitching a perfect eighth inning in Monday's 2-1 win. And with others in the 'pen struggling -- including setup men Kevin Siegrist, Brett Cecil and Jonathan Broxton -- Rosenthal, a former closer, is a natural choice to plug into that spot.
"He's in the conversation with yesterday's game," manager Mike Matheny said Tuesday.
After posting a career-worst walk rate of 6.5 walks per nine innings last season, Rosenthal has opened the season without issuing a free pass to any of the 10 batters he has faced. He's yet to go to a three-ball count, has thrown 60 percent first-pitch strikes and has struck out the first hitter in each of his three appearances.
The improved command has translated to efficiency, which was also a stumbling block for Rosenthal in 2016, when he averaged 21.3 pitches per inning. According to Statcast™, Rosenthal has throw 70.6 percent of his four-seam fastballs in the strike zone this year. Among pitchers with at least 25 four-seam fastballs thrown, that ranks third-best in the Majors.
In comparison, Rosenthal threw that pitch for a strike 55 percent of the time a year ago.
Along with better command has also come an uptick in velocity. A 100.6 mph fastball Rosenthal threw Monday tied for his third-fastest pitch since 2015. He already has hit triple digits on the radar gun three times in three outings after doing so 18 times total in 2015 and '16, according to Statcast™.
The sample size remains small, but Rosenthal's average four-seam velocity of 98.7 mph ranks second-best in the Majors behind Aroldis Chapman (99.9 mph). It represents an increase from the 97.1 mph average velocity he had last year, and it's inducing more swing and misses (17.7 percent in 2017, 11.4 percent in 2016).
"The velocity, once again, we use that as an indicator on whether everything else is right," Matheny said. "There are times when the guy feels really good but the ball just isn't coming out. Right now, we're seeing the ball free and easy coming out. He's locating, and he's throwing strikes right where he needs to be."
Carpenter nearing return
First baseman Matt Carpenter was unavailable again Tuesday while he heels a bruised finger, but he expects to be back in the Cardinals' lineup for the series finale.
Carpenter tested his swollen right ring finger, which was struck by a ball Sunday, with throws in the field and swings in the cage on Tuesday. He described it as "marginally better" than the day before, but wanted to limit his work to increase his chances of being ready Wednesday.
"We've done some things with it to try and relive the pressure," said Carpenter, who suffered a bone contusion on the play. "It's probably half the size today than it was yesterday."
• As part of his book promotion tour, former Cardinals pitcher/outfielder Rick Ankiel came to Busch Stadium on Tuesday to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. It was believed to be his first time throwing off a mound since he had to reinvent himself as a hitter after developing the yips.
Matheny, who caught 29 of Ankiel's 51 Major League games, caught the pitch, which bounced just short of the plate, and then had Ankiel sign the ball for him.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.