Well before he reaches the mound to talk with a pitcher in duress, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist has an idea, based on the personality waiting there for him, whether he needs to “poke, prod, or pat on the back.”

He had a good idea what he was going to say Saturday in the ninth inning to help closer Trevor Rosenthal reset from an souring situation. The righty had been pegged in the back by a line drive. He had failed to get a routine out with an overly aggressive throw. He had just committed a balk to put the tying run in scoring position.

So did Lilliquist poke, prod, or pat?

“A poke and a prod first,” Lilliquist said. “Then a pat.”

Whatever the order, Lilliquist helped push Rosenthal to a place he hadn’t been yet this season. The Cardinals’ closer secured his fourth save of the season by cooking with familiar heat. Rosenthal clinched a 4-3 victory against Washington for the Cardinals and starter Lance Lynn with a strikeout of the Nats’ best hitter, Jayson Werth. The last two pitches weren’t pokes or prods — just straight power, clocked at 99 mph, each.

The pat on the back came for holding the victory.

Lilliquist “put a little fire in him,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We’ve been kind of waiting all spring to see that (velocity) from Rosey. We had to wait until all of us were on the edge of the seat there. Nice to know that everything is good and he’s got that. Well-placed horsepower is hard to replace.”

Lynn became the first pitcher this season in the National League to win four games. Backup catcher Tony Cruz had two RBIs and scored on Lynn’s first career double as the Cardinals capitalized on an early Washington error for a 3-0 lead. Matt Holliday’s RBI single in the seventh off Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann provided the difference, but only after the bullpen survived the Nats threats. The trio Lilliquist called the “big three” — Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, and Rosenthal — controlled the final 3 1/3 innings.

The Cardinals invited trouble repeatedly, starting with Lynn’s inability to finish the sixth inning and continuing with the tying run coming up in the eighth against Martinez. Each time the Cardinals’ relievers stopped Washington from tying the game with a show of force.

Lefty Siegrist replaced Lynn with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth. He fed Danny Espinosa three consecutive 95-mph fastballs before a fly out. In the eighth, Martinez struck out Espinosa, the potential tying run, on a 98-mph sinker. And in the ninth, Rosenthal sped three fastballs past Werth, starting at 98 mph and climbing. The Cardinals’ closer lived at that speed last season, but had averaged 95.5 mph this month.

“You don’t usually see guys throwing that hard, that many,” Werth said. “I don’t remember the last time I faced two guys throwing 99 (mph).”

Said Lilliquist: “Both Carlos and Rosey showed an extra gear which we haven’t seen to this point, which really they are capable of. It’s not just that it was found. It’s been there. It’s about not falling into that easy trap of OK, I’m going to get out there and do my thing. It’s about bringing your best stuff all the time.”

That, of course, would be a prod.

Lynn has found his own in a pre-game routine that, so far, has erased the glitch inning struggles he’s had. Lynn (4-0) warms up focused on fastballs. He doesn’t count them, doesn’t try to fill a quota — he just throws them until he feels ready. He explained Saturday that he builds his approach around his fastball, so that should be the pitch he gets ready first. The results have been swift. Lynn has allowed one earned run and eight hits in his past 12 2/3 innings. He’s struck out 16. Espinosa had the only run with his homer to lead off the fifth.