After he gave up two runs and took the loss on Sunday while blowing his second save of the week, St. Louis Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal exited the game with a 4.98 ERA. While this is actually the lowest ERA he’s had since April 8, this unsightly number is now becoming harder to ignore. Though his numbers on paper have been bad the entire season, Rosenthal was consistent in his assigned duties, which are to close out games. He was a perfect 13-for-13 in save opportunities prior to Tuesday. But now that he’s begun to cost the Cardinals games, it’s time to start wondering how much longer he’ll be allowed to struggle before a change is considered.
The most obvious candidate to replace Rosenthal would be former NL saves leader Jason Motte, who was the closer on the Cards’ 2011 World Series team and was pretty secure in the role prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery last spring. He’s scheduled to be activated from the disabled list Tuesday, and while he might not be able to make consistent back-to-back appearances for several more weeks, Motte certainly has the confidence and experience to be a reliable closer. If anything, his repertoire may now be better, since he’s learned to rely less heavily on his fastball to get outs.
With that said, it may be risky to put Motte back into such a high-pressure role as he is still reacclimating himself to the big leagues. If the Cardinals become so discontent with Rosenthal during the near future that they feel the need to remove him from the closer position, it might be smarter to go with a closer-by-committee approach. This would allow them to put Motte in the role whenever he is able, but keep him fresh as he gets back into the swing of things. The trouble with this proposition is that no other Cardinals reliever has really performed well enough to merit closer consideration, but young pitchers such as Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, and Carlos Martinez could step in in a pinch, as could veteran Pat Neshek, who has actually been the club’s best reliever this year from a statistical standpoint.
Manager Mike Matheny has not been afraid to switch closers when an unestablished pitcher has struggled. Just last year, he switched from Mitchell Boggs to Edward Mujica to Rosenthal, mixing in a few chances for John Axford in between. Even with as good as Rosenthal was during the playoffs last year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Matheny make a change soon, especially with the more established Motte returning.