Rosenthal has 2nd straight 40-save season

Cards' closer on pace to break Lee Smith's franchise record of 47

Rosenthal has 2nd straight 40-save season

PHOENIX -- A year after becoming the fifth Cardinals pitcher to complete a 40-save season, Trevor Rosenthal moved into even rarer company by joining Lee Smith as the only closers in franchise history with two.

Rosenthal pitched a scoreless ninth on Wednesday to put a bow on the Cardinals' 3-1 win over the D-backs and notch his 40th save. He reached that number in just 42 opportunities, with his only two blown saves through the team's first 126 games coming against division-rival Pittsburgh.

"It's a very cool accomplishment and something I try not to think about too much in the season," Rosenthal said. "I know I'll appreciate it more one day. I try to keep my focus right now on the team and trying to get wins."

Smith, who set the franchise single-season record with 47 saves in 1991, went on to save 43 games in each of the two subsequent years. He remained the only Cardinals closer to reach that 40 benchmark twice before Rosenthal followed up a 45-save season in 2014 with another stellar year as the team's ninth-inning pitcher.

Rosenthal has been successful in each of his 14 save chances since the All-Star break, that run coming after he had a season-best stretch of 18 straight conversions in the first half.

"He looks sharp right now," manager Mike Matheny said. "When the ball is jumping out of his hand, it's effortless, and he's not working as hard and he's using all of his pitches. It's been a nice little run here."

Prior to Smith's string of three dominant seasons as closer, the Cardinals' only 40-save season since the statistic became officially recognized in 1969 belonged to Bruce Sutter, who saved 45 games in 1984. Since Smith, both Jason Isringhausen (47 saves in '04) and Jason Motte (42 saves in '12) joined the club.

Rosenthal now has a great chance to threaten the franchise save record of 47, as he is currently on pace to save 51 games.

Despite similar end results in his first two seasons as a full-time closer, Rosenthal has decreased the drama significantly. His walk rate has dipped from 5.4 walks per nine innings to 3.0, which has led to a drop in WHIP, from 1.41 in 2014 to 1.15 in 2015.

Rosenthal, who posted a 3.20 ERA last year, allowed 39 percent of the first batters he faced to reach. After deciding to pitch exclusively out of the stretch this spring, Rosenthal has lowered that percentage to 25. His ERA after Wednesday's save sat at 1.54, third-lowest among National League relievers.

"He's done a very, very good job this year of attacking the strike zone early and trusting himself," Matheny said. "I know that was a goal we had even going into Spring Training, talking about the leadoff hitter not getting on. I think he just continues to get better."

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