With Papelbon's help, Rosenberg begins to shine

With Papelbon's help, Rosenberg begins to shine

September 9, 2013, 2:30 pm
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B.J. Rosenberg has made 12 consecutive scoreless appearances for the Phillies. (AP)

You hear the expression all the time in baseball.

It clicked for him.

He put it all together.

No one makes it to the major leagues without possessing exceptional talent. No one. Turning that talent into production is the key to staying in the big leagues.

In other words, it has to click for the player. He has to put it all together.

For the Dick Allens, the Scott Rolens, the Ryan Howards –- all former National League rookies of the year -- things can click quickly.

For others, the process is more gradual. And for others –- hello, Real World -- it never happens.

Just a couple of weeks before his 28th birthday, Phillies reliever B.J. Rosenberg is beginning to hear the click.

His confidence is rising. He is throwing more strikes. His powerful right arm is producing consistent outs. He is beginning to pitch himself into the Phillies' 2014 bullpen plans.

When closer Jonathan Papelbon needed a day off Sunday, interim manager Ryne Sandberg did not hesitate to go to Rosenberg with his club leading the Braves, 3-2, in the ninth inning. Rosenberg rewarded Sandberg’s faith with a nine-pitch save, his first as a big-leaguer. He ended the game by striking out the dangerous Freddie Freeman with a 95-mph fastball.

Rosenberg kept the ball as a souvenir.

These are good times for the likable pitcher, who was selected by the Phillies in the 13th round of the 2008 draft out of the University of Louisville.

After riding the Lehigh Valley-to-Philadelphia shuttle for a couple of seasons, Rosenberg has put things together since coming up in mid-August. He has pitched in 11 games and not allowed a run in 9 2/3 innings. He has given up just four hits and three walks while striking out 10. He has gotten big outs late in games. He has opened eyes.

“I always thought he was great,” said Cole Hamels after Rosenberg nailed down Sunday’s win for him. “It was just a matter of time before he was able to get the confidence that you’re a quality pitcher, you’ve got great stuff, just go out there and make pitches as opposed to wondering how many days am I going to be up here this time. I think just getting that confidence was big and it’s showing.”

When informed of Hamels’ comment after Sunday’s game, Rosenberg smiled.

“It feels good to hear that,” he said. “It’s an honor. Every time I go out there I’m trying to make a good impression on my teammates, the coaches, the fans.”

The manager has been impressed.

“He’s been outstanding,” Sandberg said. “He’s pounding the strike zone at 96 [mph] with a good breaking pitch and a splitter.”

Like fellow reliever Jake Diekman, who has also opened eyes down the stretch, Rosenberg has benefitted from gaining more experience and comfort at the big-league level. He says he is doing a better job controlling his emotions in the cauldron of a big-league game. A late-game reliever needs an assassin’s mentality and it takes time to develop that. Both Diekman and Rosenberg are showing signs of having that mentality.

“The biggest thing for me is not thinking who’s in the batter’s box,” Rosenberg said. “I’m thinking what I need to do to make pitches. I know who’s in the batter’s box, but I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ I’m thinking about the game plan for getting this guy out.”

Rosenberg’s improvement can also be traced back to the mentoring of a teammate.

In August 2012, Rosenberg was playing catch with Papelbon before a game. Rosenberg threw Papelbon a few changeups that really didn’t impress the veteran closer.

“He asked if I’d ever messed with a splitter,” Rosenberg recalled.

Papelbon pulled Rosenberg aside and showed him a basic split-fingered grip. The two started playing catch regularly with Papelbon offering tutoring on the pitch.

Now it’s part of part of Rosenberg’s repertoire. It gives him something soft to complement to his hard fastball and slider. He also throws a curveball.

Rosenberg threw just one splitter on Sunday -– it preceded the game-ending heater to Freeman -– but you can bet the Braves’ dugout noticed it. A pitcher doesn’t always have to throw a particular pitch for it to be a weapon. Just making the hitter aware that the pitch is an option can provide an edge in the split-second battle that is the pitcher-hitter showdown.

“I owe Pap for my split,” Rosenberg said. “He helped me with that pitch.”

To outsiders, Papelbon is as approachable as a sleep-deprived rattlesnake.

It’s a different story for his mates in the bullpen.

“Personally speaking, I think he’s the polar opposite of the perception,” Rosenberg said. “I’ve looked up to him since he’s been here. He’s really very professional in what he does. He sets a good example for guys.

“He’s very approachable. When he first came over I was kind of scared to say anything to him. But he’s been great. He doesn’t feel anyone is less important than him. He’s very willing to help.

“He keeps it light, but when it’s time to go to work it’s game-on, he’s very serious. And anytime someone goes in he’s cheering for that guy.”

Papelbon was one of the people cheering when Rosenberg earned his first big-league save Sunday.

“I don’t think people realize it,” Rosenberg said. “He is a team guy. I know he’s helped me.”

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