WASHINGTON — The end came Sunday morning when manager Davey Martinez steeled himself to deliver the news to Trevor Rosenthal. The decision was made the night before, late in the evening Saturday after Rosenthal threw 15 pitches, just three of which were strikes. An internal meeting was followed by a conclusion: The relationship between the Nationals and one of their biggest offseason signings had run its course -- a result which seemed to be pending for weeks. So, after walking in Sunday morning, Rosenthal met with Martinez and learned his time was up.
“Just at this point in time, he put the work in, we put the work in, we tried to get him right and just things didn’t work out,” Martinez said. “So it was time for us to move on and I wish him and his family the best.”
Gone is hope, a headache and a significant investment. Washington won the race to sign Rosenthal in the offseason, paying him $7 million and tacking on a club option for next season following an eye-popping showcase. He arrived in spring training with his velocity intact. His ability to locate never followed, at times handcuffing the manager in game, and later complicating the entire roster.
Yet, he always thought he was close, saying as recently as Saturday night a “small tweak” was the only thing necessary to get right. Rosenthal primarily worked with Senior Advisor, Player Development Spin Williams and pitching coach Paul Menhart when trying to fix his failures. He also had ex- and current teammates offering advice. In his head were a variety of battling thoughts about mechanics, pressure and results. He remained upbeat throughout, so much so it was unclear if he was fully in touch with what was occurring.
Rosenthal's final numbers are abnormal and hard to fathom despite witnessing the process which delivered them: 6 ⅓ innings, eight hits, 15 walks, three hit batters, a damning 22.74 ERA. He’s the second leg of an enormous bullpen construction failure by general manager Mike Rizzo last offseason. His two key acquisitions -- Kyle Barraclough (currently on the IL with a 6.39 ERA) and Rosenthal -- created the greatest drag on what again stood as the league’s worst bullpen coming into Sunday. Rizzo declined through a team spokesperson to speak with reporters on Sunday. That left the duty to Martinez and Rosenthal’s teammates.
Two of the three relievers NBC Sports Washington spoke with Sunday morning did not know Rosenthal had been released. And by look of his locker, there was little evidence a change had been made. Two gloves were on the shelves, a loan baseball sat next to his hat, his game pants hung on a hook. Sean Doolittle and Ryan Zimmerman bobbleheads held their station in the home of someone who was suddenly whisked away without packing. Presumably, Rosenthal will return Monday, when the clubhouse is empty and his former team has boarded a plane for Miami, to collect his belongings.
“My heart goes out to him because you think about how before this season, when he pitched in spring training, he had been away for the game for 16 months recovering from Tommy John surgery,” Doolittle told NBC Sports Washington. “I had some IL stints myself, that whole time you’re working your way back, you’re envisioning all the success you’re going to have when you come back and helping the team win. There’s so much optimism and anticipation surrounding that. When it doesn’t go your way like that... he just could never quite get it going. I know he tried a number of different fixes. He worked really hard, he had a great attitude about things. It’s tough. There’s no...I don’t know. It stinks.”
Doolittle watched film at times with Rosenthal. Other relievers watched with the understanding of how volatile life can be in the bullpen when healthy, let alone when returning from an extended layoff caused by injury. They also thought Sunday morning of what comes after being released. Other elements of life show up.
“You feel for him because you’ve been there,” Javy Guerra, who was released this season by Toronto, told NBC Sports Washington. “I think for the most part, when you step away from the field, you understand there’s real life going on and there’s a lot of people involved in the decisions and everything that happens. I think for the most part, you sit back and assess it. It’s tough. That’s the realistic part of this game. As you get older, there’s more people in play. I think that’s what people don’t really understand as much. You have to move your family now. Turns into more of a production. It’s unfortunate.”
Martinez didn’t sleep much Saturday night knowing his morning duty was to inform Rosenthal of his team-less future. He also knew the Nationals couldn’t continue to push back toward relevancy with a reliever who can’t record an out despite operating with a four-run lead. Massaging a bullpen on a daily basis is often labeled the most difficult part of a manager’s job. Doing it with a setup man who can’t pitch is all the more difficult.
Washington has populated its minor-league system with veteran relievers like Fernando Rodney and George Kontos. None are pitching particularly well, all were available for a reason. Kyle McGowin was recalled Sunday to offer temporary long relief. Another move is likely Tuesday when the team begins a six-game road trip. Rosenthal will not be joining them.
“There’s always going to be a lot of questions, I wish we just had more time for him to stay here and figure it out,” Doolittle said. “It stinks.”
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