There are those who believe that St. Louis Cardinals reliever Fernando Salas has never been the same since his first extended stint as a major leaguer.
In 2011, the right-hander was called upon by then-manager Tony La Russa time and time again. Salas threw 75 innings over 68 regular season games, preceded by three more innings at Memphis. Evolving into the closer’s role, he racked up 24 saves. By September, Salas had lost the ninth-inning job and his 12 2/3 post-season frames were less effective (five earned runs). In 2012, his ERA was up over two runs per game and now, he is rarely used in crucial situations.
Fast forward to 2013. At the current course and speed, Trevor Rosenthal could become this year’s Salas.
The hard-thrower has had his ups and downs in setting up over the first month, but seems to have reached his stride. After a stressful but successful 1 1/3 inning stint against Milwaukee on Thursday night, the 22-year-old has allowed just one earned run while striking out 12 and walking three over his last eight appearances, totaling eight innings.
Of considerable concern is Rosenthal’s workload. He has pitched in 16 of St. Louis’ 28 games, putting him on pace to appear in 92 regular season contests. To put that into perspective, it would place him in a tie for fourth all-time in Major League Baseball history in that category.
One of Mike Matheny’s acknowledged learnings from his first year as Cardinals manager was the need to give more rest to his key position players in his second season at the helm. Now the skipper seems on track to make the same mistake with Rosenthal.
In his defense, the bullpen turmoil his club is experiencing early in 2013 has left Matheny with fewer reliable relief options upon which to call. Still, the club needs to come up with some other dependable set-up answers before one of its most impressive young arms is spent.