Rosenthal, 29, posted a 36.00 ERA in his first seven appearances with the Nationals, struggling with his control and posting a staggering WHIP of 5.33. He went on the 10-day injured list April 26 with a viral infection. The move was designed to give him time — more than a month, as it turned out — to rediscover his command and consistency.
The results were mixed. The Nationals are welcoming him back anyway, at least for now.
“I mean it’s been challenging, you know? No doubt,” Rosenthal said Saturday ahead of the Nationals’ game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. “But I mean, nothing is super easy most of the time. It was not really something that I foresaw having to go through and work through.”
Rosenthal missed all of 2018 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and his start to this season could not have gone any worse. That first led him to West Palm Beach, Fla., for a week of extended spring training and then into a rehab assignment with Class AA Harrisburg. He made 10 appearances for the Senators and finished with a stat line of 9⅓ innings, nine hits, six earned runs, seven walks, 11 strikeouts, three hit by pitches and two home runs. Some of the same command issues turned up in those outings.
But he strung together solid performances Tuesday and Wednesday to inspire a measure of confidence. He threw a scoreless 15-pitch inning Tuesday. He wasn’t as sharp Wednesday, giving up a homer, but the Nationals were encouraged that he threw 15 of 22 pitches for strikes. Then he got the call to meet the team in San Diego and equated it to when he first made the major leagues. The Nationals had to make a decision by Sunday, when his 30-day rehab assignment was set to end.
“Well, I thought after missing last year I really had a great appreciation for it,” Rosenthal said Saturday, with a laugh, when asked whether the past six weeks put his career in a different perspective. “So I don’t know if my appreciation could get any higher. But, yeah, it’s humbling, like anything. It’s a game, and it’s not the end of the world if things don’t go like I plan or what other people expect of me. I’m good with that, and like I said, I’m really happy to be here.”
The hard-throwing right-hander still has a high-90s fastball that sets up a diving slider. He didn’t make any big mechanical tweaks while in the minors but rather worked to figure out what changed between comfortable warmup pitches and in-game situations he could not handle.
“The most frustrating thing was, when I would be playing catch or warming up, everything would be really solid and feeling great. And then as soon as I tried to do more, tried to make a certain pitch or with a batter in the box try to do a little bit extra, is when the results weren’t how I wanted them,” Rosenthal said. “It didn’t necessarily feel different, but the results were not happening the way I had planned. I’ve kind of taken a step back and almost approached it like my warmup pitches, with that sort of effort level, and then build off of that.”
As for how Rosenthal will be used, Manager Dave Martinez said he expects to ease him into low-leverage situations. Washington is able to do that because it still has an eight-man bullpen, which started once Rosenthal couldn’t find the plate in early April. The Nationals still have baseball’s worst bullpen, with a 6.57 ERA. Their problems began with Rosenthal right after Opening Day, and his ineffectiveness has had Washington scrambling since.
But now Rosenthal gets an opportunity, however short the leash, to be part of the solution. And the plan is for him to become a viable option when the situations calls for it.
“Hopefully he comes up here and he pitches the way he’s capable of pitching,” Martinez said. “He’s here for a reason. We saw something in him, and we believe that he can help us.”
Trea Turner, SS
Adam Eaton, RF
Anthony Rendon, 3B
Juan Soto, LF
Howie Kendrick, 1B
Brian Dozier, 2B
Kurt Suzuki, C
Victor Robles, CF
Max Scherzer, P
Greg Garcia, 3B
Wil Myers, CF
Manny Machado, SS
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Franmil Reyes, RF
Josh Naylor, LF
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Austin Hedges, C
Eric Lauer, P