SAN FRANCISCO -- In 2002, the Anaheim Angels unleashed “K-Rod” upon the playoffs. Francisco Rodriguez started the season in the minor leagues, dazzled in a September trial in the major leagues, and wreaked havoc upon postseason opponents as the Angels won the World Series.
Ten years later, the St. Louis Cardinals present Trevor Rosenthal.
He lacks the cool nickname, but he has a supersonic fastball. The Cardinals might not win the World Series, but to this point Rosenthal’s statistics this fall are better than those Rodriguez put up a decade ago.
Rosenthal has faced 22 batters this postseason, entering Game 6 of the National League Championship series. He has struck out 11, walked one and given up one hit.
He has not given up a run since Sept. 14.
It would be technically inaccurate to say Rosenthal had no playoff experience before this season. He was the winning pitcher in the Class A Midwest League championship game last season, for the Quad City River Bandits.
“It’s definitely been a quick ride,” he said. “I haven’t had too much time to go back and reflect on it all yet. Hopefully, around Christmas time or something, I’ll be able to pinch myself and wake up and realize what happened.”
Rosenthal, a 22-year-old right-hander, opened this season at double-A Springfield (Mo.). After the All-Star break, the Cardinals shuttled him between St. Louis and triple-A Memphis.
He started in the minor leagues, relieved in the major leagues. The Cardinals included him on their playoff roster after he had thrown only 22 2/3 innings in the majors.
Move a starter into short relief, and his fastball usually jumps a few mph. For Rosenthal, that meant the radar gun read 100 mph.
“I don’t know what he does, but I’ve seen him every day in the weight room ,” Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly joked. “Maybe I should start doing what he does.”
Said Rosenthal: “I’ve always just had a stronger arm than all of my peers and teammates. It’s been noticeably different the way the ball came out of my hand.
“As far as the radar gun and realizing what it was registering, it was never really anything I focused on.”
Rosenthal might yet return to starting. For now, for a Cardinals bullpen that sets up with Edward Mujica in the seventh inning, Mitchell Boggs in the eighth and Jason Motte in the ninth, Rosenthal is a valuable wild card for the middle innings.
St. Louis Manager Mike Matheny said the Cardinals will get through this postseason first, then decide how to use Rosenthal next season.
“Trevor has been very impressive with everything we’ve put him up to,” Matheny said. “We continue to give him high-leverage situations and continue to execute pitches.
“But I know that he has the ability to carry – if not the velocity that he has, then pretty close to it – for an extended period of time on a start. Right now, it’s too early to start putting those plans into place.”