Maness, Rosenthal look sharp in relief roles

Cards relievers combine for 3 shutout innings in loss to Royals

Maness, Rosenthal look sharp in relief roles

KANSAS CITY -- Monday night's outings by Seth Maness and Trevor Rosenthal may have been innocuous in the Cardinals' 6-2 loss to the Royals. But for two relievers trying to work their way back into more familiar high-leverage roles, their appearances represented encouraging steps forward.

Maness, making his second appearance since returning from the disabled list, retired all six batters he faced in relief of starter Adam Wainwright. Maness did so on 16 pitches and by showcasing an effective sinker, which helped him induce four ground-ball outs.

Behind Maness, Rosenthal entered for his first appearance since being pulled from the closer's role. He worked around two singles to throw a scoreless eighth.

"Whether I'm pitching in a save situation or not, it's all the same," Rosenthal said. "The only difference being tonight that I know there are some things I need to improve on and some things the guys on the team wanted to see me improve on. [Manager] Mike [Matheny], as well. That was the only difference -- to show that I was working to make the adjustments."

The biggest of those is being aggressive around the plate. Rosenthal, who entered the game averaging 7.9 walks per nine innings, did not get pushed even to a two-ball count. He threw first-pitch strikes to four of the five batters he faced.

Rosenthal fans Merrifield in 8th

Rosenthal's final pitch -- an 89-mph changeup -- struck out Whit Merrifield to strand two runners on base.

"He gets into a big spot and makes big pitches and gets us out without any damage," Matheny said. "I think that was a great sign. He's going to continue to make the adjustments, but I thought today was a step in the right direction."

Maness preceded Rosenthal with what was statistically one of his sharpest appearances this year. After fighting command issues for the first several weeks this season and then unplugging for five weeks to allow inflammation to reduce around his right elbow, Maness has been able to better spot his two-seam fastball down in the strike zone since returning.

"I don't think I was getting the movement I needed [earlier this year]," Maness said. "I was hoping that the arm problems were causing that, so it was good to get back out there and get a few groundballs. I didn't make any [mechanical] adjustments. I tried to trust myself because I drove myself crazy prior to going on the DL."

Rediscovering that command could help Maness settle back into the fireman role he's filled so well for most of the last four seasons. He still leads the Majors with 41 double plays since the start of 2013.

"It's mainly just proving to myself that I can still do it," Maness said. "Once that doubt creeps in, it's a big snowball effect and you start questioning if you have the ability and if you can still play this game. I'm trying to regain the feeling inside you that you can do it and get outs."

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.