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By Kary Booher

JUPITER, Fla. – It's a wonder there is not a visible vapor trail. From his release point to the Yadier Molina's catcher's mitt, the distance is what, only 59 or maybe 58 feet?

Talk about running on jet fuel. That bullet rifles past batters in an instant, and then everybody looks at the radar gun readings. It's a 100 mph fastball. The heater. The ol' No. 1.

And it's long been Trevor Rosenthal's meal ticket. The St. Louis Cardinals' late-season closer of last season threw that baby 1,144 times.

In April, his four-seam fastball averaged 98.13 mph, according to BrooksBaseball.com's online tracking system, pitchf/x. In October alone, about two months after Rosenthal became the Cardinals' closer pro tem, pitchf/x calculated the four-seamer at 98.52 mph.

Yes, a tick better. Unfortunately, pitchf/x doesn't track smoke trails, or ticked-off batters for that matter.

"With every pitcher, velocity isn't everything, because you're facing really good hitters. They're trying to turn it around," Rosenthal will tell you. "Wherever (Molina) sets up, he gives you a good target. It's a good focus point."

That said, Rosenthal is a good focus point when looking at the dynamics of the Cardinals bullpen this season.

It's got live arms such as Rosenthal and eighth-inning set-up man Carlos Martinez, a fellow 22-year-old. Plus, left-hander Kevin Siegrist brings heat, too, and it's why manager Mike Matheny is unafraid to dispatch Siegrist against right-handers.

Perhaps the Cardinals should add a flame to the birds on the bat logo.

Weeks away from returning from the disabled list is another heat-bringer, former closer Jason Motte, and Jorge Rondon — one of the three candidates for the final bullpen spot — lights up radar guns, too.

"I don't throw hard. You're not going to offend me," veteran left-hander Randy Choate joked when asked about the power arms. "I joke about it all the time, 'How hard is it to pitch when all you've got to do is reach back and throw 100?'

"I'd like to be able to do it for just one outing, give me 95-plus. And everybody is like, 'OK but you can't have your sink,'" Choate added. "I'm like, 'I've got my sink at 95. I just want it for one day, just to see what it's like."

Rosenthal will always draw eyes, both for his fastball and for his backstory, but he says his work with the club's Gold Glove catcher, Molina, will key his season again.

Keep in mind that putting games to bed is still relatively new to him. He was drafted in the 21st round in 2011, despite a scout spotting him for only one inning in a Kansas juco game — just weeks after his college team installed Rosenthal in the ninth.

Besides, Rosenthal was a starter in Springfield in 2012, shifted to a relief role in the big leagues that summer and was installed as St. Louis' closer in the season's second half last year.

"Working with Yadi and having the best catcher in the game is huge for our staff," Rosenthal said. "Listening to him, (it's about) reading other guys' swings and finding those locations and trying to be a student of the game."

"Some guys who are super-talented," Rosenthal later added of the staff, "it's pretty cool to watch each other."

But can the Cardinals get the ball to Rosenthal frequently again? He converted four postseason save opportunities last October.

"That's a good question. It's a whole new year," said middle reliever Seth Maness, one of at least four former Springfield pitchers in the bullpen. "You've just got to approach it like last year — one day at a time. There's nothing to say you're going to come out and have an awesome time. You've got to take it slow."

What could enhance the Cardinals' bullpen are the other arms, the non-flamethrowers. Maness and Choate are in this discussion.

Maness is all about control, spotting his fastball, pitching to contact.

Choate and non-roster invite Pat Neshek throw sidearm and, because one is a righty and the other a lefty, they create an interesting sight when warming simultaneously: They look like broken helicopter propellers.

Imagine that scenario when manager Mike Matheny turns to match-ups late in games.

Different looks keep batters on their toes. See a sidearmer throwing 89-90 one inning, meet the guy firing 100 mph bullets the next.

In other words, that trio could be as important as the flamethrowers. It could lead to "a really close-down pen," Choate said.

"Match-up guys hopefully are throwing some Frisbee sliders up there and kind of controlling the zone," Choate said, "so that guys that come in in the eighth and ninth can blow guys away."

Kary Booher, Sunday Sports Editor of the News-Leader, can be reached at 836-1180 or by email at kbooher@news-leader.com. Follow him on Twitter at @karybooherNL.

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