CHICAGO - Davey Martinez wanted to find a low-pressure situation to ease Trevor Rosenthal back into a big league game, and with his team up five runs entering the ninth inning Monday night, this looked like a good situation to do it.
By the time Rosenthal actually entered from the right field bullpen, it had become a great situation to do it. The Nationals had tacked on six insurance runs in the top of the ninth, so now Rosenthal was able to pitch with a 12-1 lead.
Of course, that also necessitated a long wait while Rosenthal’s teammates were batting around against the White Sox bullpen.
“I kind of figured that was how it was going to go, looking at the inning and how it was progressing,” Rosenthal said. “It was a slow inning with pitching changes, something I’ve experienced before. I was able to pace myself and not throw too much or not get too built up. It ended up working out well with how I timed it.”
In his first big league appearance nearly seven weeks after he was shut down with a 36.00 ERA, Rosenthal didn’t inspire a lot of confidence right out of the chute. He started his outing with five consecutive fastballs out of the zone, perhaps causing a few faces in the Nationals dugout to tighten up.
But then Rosenthal did what he did while on a four-week rehab stint with Double-A Harrisburg when he needed to settle himself down: He turned to his slider.
Rosenthal threw that pitch three straight times, each time for strikes, and now he was off and running.
“It’s been something I’ve been working on,” he said. “It’s helped me to get back in counts. I’m comfortable using it, and it’s an effective pitch. I can throw it in any count right now.”
“As we watched him down there (in Harrisburg), when he throws his slider, it slows everything down for him,” Martinez said. “And he’s able to repeat that a lot.”
Rosenthal did surrender a rope of a grounder up the middle to slugger José Abreu, but Trea Turner made a diving stop to his left and then started a fantastic 6-4-3 double play to really settle things down.
“If I can make a play for my pitchers, try to do it,” Turner said. “Shouldn’t matter the score. I feel like I should play as a hard as I can.”
With two outs and nobody on, Rosenthal got down to business. He got James McCann to fly out to right to end the game, and with that the 29-year-old had his first scoreless inning of the season, lowering his ERA to 27.00.
“It was good to have positive results,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to getting back out there. Hopefully this is a stepping stone to keep building on for the rest of the season. Hopefully I can just continue to help this team win.”
Rosenthal is far from completely fixed. He only threw six of his 13 total pitches for strikes, only one of his seven fastballs (though two appeared to be in the upper portion of the strike zone but called balls by plate umpire Jeff Kellogg).
But this was a major step forward for him, the first of what the Nationals hope is many.
“I really believe that having an outing like this - and knowing that he can throw his slider, he threw his fastball for a strike at 97 mph - it will definitely help him,” Martinez said. “And the more he gets out there, and the more comfortable he gets, and he’s done it ... this guy has been an unbelievable closer for a lot of years. We just got to keep him on track.”
* The only real negative news out of Monday night’s loss was the mid-game departure of first baseman Matt Adams with what eventually was revealed to be a left oblique strain.
Martinez said Adams hurt himself on a check-swing in the top of the sixth. When the inning ended, Gerardo Parra took over at first base.
Adams will be evaluated Tuesday, but Martinez admitted he’s “a little concerned.”
“Whenever it’s an oblique, that’s going to be days missed,” the manager said.
The Nationals are reasonably covered at first base with Howie Kendrick and Parra for the time being. Ryan Zimmerman also appears to be close to resuming running as he attempts to return from plantar fasciitis in his right foot.