Rosenthal knows aggressive approach is key

Cardinals closer focusing on throwing strikes, not being too fine

Rosenthal knows aggressive approach is key

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- As Trevor Rosenthal looks ahead to his second year as the Cardinals' closer, he's also looking back in an effort to reduce the dramatics this time around.

While Rosenthal ranked second in the National League with 45 saves in 2014, few of those outings were uneventful. His walks per nine innings rose from 2.4 in 2013 to 5.4 in '14, and his efficiency waned. Rosenthal allowed 39 percent of the first batters he faced to reach. He threw 20 or more pitches in 23 of his appearances.

Though the end largely compensated for the means, Rosenthal knows he can be better. He's been pitching out of the stretch all spring, seeing if that could be a way to address his first-batter inefficiencies. He also wants to get back to what he once did quite well, which is be aggressive in the strike zone.

It sounds like an obvious approach for a pitcher who can reach triple digits on the radar gun, but in looking back on his 2014 season, Rosenthal noticed that he had, at times, become a nibbler. Early in the season, he saw more hitters trying to ambush him. All of a sudden that fastball that he used to be able to throw for a first-pitch strike was being hit.

"They know I'm throwing a lot of fastballs and don't really want to wait and get behind in the count," said Rosenthal, who was hit at a .519/.500/.778 clip when batters put the first pitch in play. "When I first came up, I could throw one over the plate and get ahead and not really worry about it."

Rosenthal's response to that was to try and be too perfect with the placement. That led to extended counts and walks.

"I think you just come into the situations trying to be too fine, trying not to give up the game-tying home run on the first pitch of the inning," Rosenthal said. "I really just have to throw strikes with everything. That's what I'm focusing on with my bullpens and as we [get into games]. It's being able to command everything and knowing what it feels like to throw for a strike."

Rosenthal showed that aggressiveness in his spring debut on Saturday when he got through an inning on 12 pitches and threw eight of them for strikes. Tuesday's appearance against the Astros -- one in which he served up a go-ahead two-run homer -- was a bit more laborious and also a reminder that Rosenthal can't get by with the fastball alone.

The last 12 months have been a series of such lessons for Rosenthal.

"I think it's exciting to see and listen to the things he worked on this winter and how he is getting closer to being the kind of pitcher he wants to be," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's making a lot of adjustments so far in his overall game and last year was a good year. There were just some tough spot along the way."

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