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Closing Arguments: Should St. Louis Cardinals Pitching Prospect Trevor Rosenthal Be a Starter or a Reliever?

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COMMENTARY | There's no doubt the St. Louis Cardinals have a very talented young pitcher in hard-throwing righty Trevor Rosenthal.

The only debate is whether his talents are better suited for the starting rotation or the back of the bullpen.

Rosenthal has been quite clear this spring about his preference, telling reporters that it is his dream to be a major league starter. But is that the best thing for the Cardinals, a franchise that has a slew of starting pitcher prospects including Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha who would like to join ace Adam Wainwright, second year starter Lance Lynn and 26-year-old lefty Jaime Garcia in the rotation?

A much rarer find for the Redbirds is a homegrown elite closer. Prior to incumbent ninth inning man Jason Motte, the last long term closer the Cardinals developed was Todd Worrell who made his debut late in the 1985 season. With a little bit of seasoning now, Rosenthal could be the next great St. Louis closer by the time Motte's contract runs out at the end of next season.

The primary argument of the folks who would like to see Rosenthal in the rotation is that his arsenal of four quality pitches would be wasted in the bullpen. But Cardinals fans who have watched the team play in the last decade or so can tell you how important a shutdown closer can be. They've suffered through watching an injury-depleted Jason Isringhausen and a time-ravaged Ryan Franklin blow game after game. The fact is that a good starting pitcher has a chance to make a difference in one or two games a week. But a good closer might save four or even five games in the same span of time.

The fact that he has two or three "out" pitches shouldn't be a reason to keep Rosenthal out of the bullpen. Conventional wisdom says that starters don't show all their weapons to opposing batters in the early innings of a game so they can save something in their bag of tricks for the second and third time through the order. But a reliever only faces a particular hitter once a night. So there is no reason he can't go after the batter at hand with no holds barred. Baseball pundits say that a good major league batter can hit triple digit pitches if he knows what's coming. But a good change-up and or a sharp breaking ball can give the pitcher an almost unfair advantage when the guy standing at the plate also has to be ready for a 101-mile an hour fastball.

Those tools will allow Rosenthal to be similar to the vintage version of Isringhausen, one of the best closers in the game in the early to mid 1990s. Back then Isringhausen, a former starter who also had a variety of pitches at his command, could make hitters look plain foolish with a devastating punch of a fastball and counter punch of a breaking pitch.

Something Rosenthal demonstrated in late 2012, when he pitched in several high pressure situations during the Cardinals' battle to get in the playoffs and then in several postseason games, was that he has the nerves of a cat burglar. That's a valuable trait for a closer. In fact, the only time that Rosenthal has lost his composure in a major league game came when St. Louis manager Mike Matheny handed him the ball to start the club's Grapefruit League opener a week and a half ago. Obviously trying to make a big impression in his bid to make the rotation, Rosenthal was overthrowing which made him uncharacteristically inefficient.

He pitched two innings of relief Wednesday for the Cardinals, allowing two hits and no walks in two scoreless frames. So Rosenthal seems to be settling in. Fortunately, there seems to be no wrong answer in what to do with the Lee's Summit, Mo. native. After all, there are quite a few Hall of Fame starting pitchers who started their career as relievers.

Scott Wuerz has been a reporter and columnist at the Belleville News-Democrat, located in suburban St. Louis, since 1998. During that time he has covered three St. Louis Cardinals World Series appearances, the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star game and Mark McGwire's chase to break Roger Maris' home run record. He has penned the View From the Cheap Seats Cardinals fan blog for the News-Democrat since 2007.

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