WASHINGTON -- The rehab process following Tommy John surgery is notoriously strenuous, a tedious and frustrating mental test for pitchers who spend a year trying to recover from the ligament tear. This was not the exact experience for new Nationals reliever Trevor Rosenthal, however, as he told it Monday morning, a little more than 14 months removed from his surgery in August 2017.
"The whole process has been very smooth, no hiccups," Rosenthal said during a conference call. "I've felt really good the whole time, almost too good."
Good enough to have made Rosenthal consider pitching in 2018.
Initially, the plan laid out by Rosenthal's doctors was to sit out the entire season, but around the All-Star break, he began considering joining a team for the stretch run. He credited the communication laid out from his doctor, agency and trainers for giving him a good idea of what to expect throughout the process, which made it go so smoothly for him. While Rosenthal eventually settled on heeding the doctor's initial plan to miss the entire season, he still felt encouraged by the progress of his arm.
"Looking back now, I definitely wouldn't want to do it again," Rosenthal said with a laugh. "But I just felt like mentally, I was in such a good place that the days just went by."
After watching Rosenthal's showcase at UC Irvine on October 3, the Nationals were convinced as well that he was healthy, and they quickly worked to sign him to a one-year deal with a conditional option for 2020, which the club announced Saturday. Rosenthal said he and his agent, Scott Boras, received tons of calls following the workout, but the Nats moved aggressively to pounce on their target.
The Nationals are an organization with a history of dealing with pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery, and while Rosenthal said he was unaware of that, he did speak glowingly of his experience with the Nats' medical staff during his physical last week, saying they seemed "ahead of the curve" with some of their testing and methods. And it can't hurt that Rosenthal is familiar with Nationals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who was his pitching coach for the start of his career in St. Louis.
Washington is hoping Rosenthal can provide another stable arm to its bullpen, which general manager Mike Rizzo is rebuilding this offseason. Sean Doolittle is coming off a career year as an All-Star closer and the team acquired Kyle Barraclough from Miami.
During his six-year career with the Cardinals, Rosenthal collected tons of closing experience, becoming the eighth-youngest pitcher in MLB history to record 100 saves at 25 years, 10 months and 22 days old. In Washington, he will likely slot in as a setup man in front of Doolittle, a role he said he had no issues with embracing.
"For me, it's not something where I need to know what exactly my role is going to be," Rosenthal said. "I'm just looking forward to seeing what happens; if we're winning a lot of games and we have a lot of opportunities to finish things out, it's going to be really enjoyable for everybody."