Matheny affirms Rosenthal's standing as closer

Right-hander pulled in ninth Sunday after walking bases loaded against Padres

Matheny affirms Rosenthal's standing as closer

ST. LOUIS -- Presumably anticipating that the topic would arise in his postgame news conference following Sunday's 7-6 win over the Padres, manager Mike Matheny snipped any debate about a closer controversy by interrupting the question before it could even be fully asked.

"That's not happening," Matheny affirmed. "He's our closer."

The question, of course, was regarding Trevor Rosenthal's role, and it came only minutes after the young Cardinals closer had to be bailed out of a bases-loaded mess by Seth Maness. The Cardinals held on for the win, but it was a victory complicated by Rosenthal walking three of the four batters he faced.

Eight of his first nine pitches were outside the zone, prompting the first mound visit from Matheny. Rosenthal struck out the next batter but then found Matheny heading back to remove him after walking the bases full. Of the 18 pitches Rosenthal threw, only six were strikes.

"Physically, everything feels real good," Rosenthal said afterward. "Obviously, something is not clicking right, and I need to make an adjustment. I don't think it's anything major. I think just a little bit of an adjustment to get back in the zone and start getting ahead of hitters."

Though Rosenthal has converted 36 of 40 save opportunities this season, clean and efficient innings have been too rare. When Rosenthal walked the first batter he faced Sunday, it marked the 23rd time in 57 appearances that Rosenthal has allowed the leadoff hitter to reach.

Rosenthal continues to take suggestions from others on the staff about possibly altering his warm-up routine to ensure he's sharp as soon as he takes the mound. He'll continue to experiment.

"You definitely want to have your best stuff from the beginning," Rosenthal said. "It's important to go out there and try and get the first one as quick as possible."

His strikeout rate isn't down significantly from where it was in 2013, a season in which Rosenthal thrived as a setup man. But the walk rate has escalated. He's now walked 33 batters in 56 1/3 innings. For comparison, his season total in 75 1/3 innings last year was 20.

Nevertheless, Matheny intends to stick with the 24-year-old as his ninth-inning guy rather than hand those closer duties to Pat Neshek, who has stronger season numbers but has never been a full-time closer in his eight-season career. Neshek remains an option to fill in on days when Rosenthal is unavailable.

Cognizant of the workload Rosenthal has already carried this season, the Cardinals are closely monitoring his usage and are prepared to integrate more days off into his scheduled. He is averaging 18 pitches per inning this year.

"I think we just forget how good he's been and when we see something that looks a little off ... he's had some tough saves this year, not a whole lot different than what we saw right there [on Sunday]," Matheny said.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.