‘Where I’m supposed to be’: Healthy, driven, Rosenthal hungry for second stint with Tigers

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — It seemed like a fair question to ask Trevor Rosenthal as he sat in front of his locker Tuesday morning, sipping a cup of coffee. He’d just gotten done catching up with fellow Lee’s Summit, Mo., native Alex Lange.

Rosenthal is back for a second stint with the Tigers. He’s going to be 33 in May and has battled through three different injuries in the last three seasons, and he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2020. He’s a former All-Star and for a glorious two-year run, he was one of the most feared and effective closers in the game. He’s made nearly $33 million in his career.

So why is he still chasing this? What motivates him, after all he’s accomplished and all that he’s endured health-wise, to accept a minor-league deal with the Tigers?

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of factors, but it comes down to this just feels like what I’m supposed to do. It feels like I’m supposed to be here, and I’m thankful for the opportunity. Any hesitation I might’ve had, there’s been so many things that have pointed me to, ‘This is where you’re supposed to be. You’re supposed to be in Lakeland, Fla., right now.’

“Being in this clubhouse the last couple of days and meeting guys, it’s like that was all the affirmation I needed. This is where I’m supposed to be.”

Rosenthal met with Tigers manager AJ Hinch Tuesday morning and a plan for his activation was put in place. It’s probably not going to be as swift as he wants.

“There is no need to have a sense for a timeline,” Hinch said. “It does not matter when he’s ready, as long as he’s healthy. We’re not going to push it. There is no artificial date. Opening Day is not something that’s feasible.

“We’re going to be very strict and diligent with our work with him, very disciplined.”

You understand why. He’s thrown two innings since 2020, and those were in Triple-A last season. The last time the Tigers signed him, in 2019, he was coming back from Tommy John surgery. He finally seemed to regain his form in 2020, pitching for Kansas City and San Diego.

Then the injuries bit him again — thoracic outlet surgery, hip labrum surgery, recurring hamstring injury.

“I feel like on paper, it looks worse than what I actually have gone through, from an injury standpoint,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal said the thoracic outlet surgery was significant, but the recovery process was relatively simple and quick. The hip labrum surgery was more routine and common among athletes, but the recovery was a bear.

“It just took time to get through them,” he said. “And then, once I finally got through those and was feeling fine, I got the hamstring. Just a freak, out-of-nowhere thing.”

Since 2020, Rosenthal has bounced between five organizations — Kansas City, San Diego, Oakland (where he signed an $11-million deal and never was able to throw a pitch), San Francisco and Milwaukee. As he prepared to throw his first bullpen with the Tigers later in the morning, he said it was all systems go.

“Getting into year two of the recovery from the hip surgery, I’m actually surprised at how good I feel,” he said. “I didn’t do anything different than I’ve always done (training-wise), just continued to work, continued to do the things I’m supposed to do — keeping myself in shape, which I’ve never had a problem with in the past.”

What he has now that he didn’t have before is some hard-earned wisdom.

“Having the reputation for the work and pushing myself, which is not a bad thing, but now, hopefully, I am able to draw on the experience and manage these things a little bit better,” Rosenthal said.

So, he may not love the slow, cautious activation plan, but he understands it.

“He will always want to push it faster than we do,” Hinch said. “Probably to a fault. That’s what I told him today. ‘Stay on our program.’ Stay on our plan and when the day comes when he’s the most effective reliever option, we’re going to get him going.”

The other thing that keeps Rosenthal going? He knows he can still pitch.

“I definitely feel the talent and the performance, it’s all still there,” he said. “I still have a lot to give at that end. Who knows what the results will look like, but in that regard, I’m just going to show up and it’s one day at a time — and if I can help somebody else or help myself, that’s what I will continue to do.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

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