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Hens' Robertson makes his pitch for reliever spot

04/30/2014, 3:00am EDT
By JOHN WAGNERBLADE SPORTS WRITER

Coop Scoop: Nate Robertson

Nate Robertson throws against Gwinnett at Fifth Third Field in Toledo.

Nate Robertson throws against Gwinnett at Fifth Third Field in Toledo. The lefty spent seven seasons with the Detroit Tigers and had a spot in the rotation of the 2006 World Series team. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

Nate Robertson is a familiar name to fans of both the Tigers and Mud Hens.

The left-handed pitcher posted a 9-7 record and 3.14 ERA with Toledo in 2003 to earn a promotion to Detroit. He then spent all or part of the next seven seasons with the Tigers, earning a spot in the rotation of the 2006 World Series team.

But that’s where the similarities between the Robertson who made 23 starts for the Hens in ’03 and the current member of the Toledo bullpen end.

“He was a youngster coming up, and he was learning how to pitch,” said Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish, who was Robertson’s manager in 2003. “Now he’s the veteran guy, talking to the younger guys about how to pitch and getting hitters out.”

AT THE PLATE with Nate Robertson

The biggest change is in the style of pitching. The younger Robertson was a power pitcher who used a fastball and hard slider to strike out hitters; nowadays the 36-year-old uses different arm slots, different speeds, and a variety of pitches to get hitters out.

“This is almost a safety net for me, because I can command it better,” Robertson said of the higher-arm slot. “But [the more sidearm slot] is, because of the deception and the movement, what is going to get me back to where I want to be.

“I think that makes me unpredictable.”

Robertson still throws the fastball, slider, and change-up from the higher-arm slot. When he throws sidearm, he has a breaking ball and fastball — at a slower speed.

“I have to laugh, because some times when I throw the fastball, the guys keeping the pitching charts write down change-up,” he said. “I have to tell them, ‘Yeah, it was only 83 [miles per hour], but it’s the fastball.’ ”

Robertson is 0-2 but has a solid 2.45 ERA in 11 appearances with Toledo this season. But those numbers, or even the .226 opponents batting average, is as important to him as his ratio of ground-ball outs compared to other outs.

“The big thing for me is keeping the ball on the ground,” he said. “If I’m doing everything right, the ball should stay on the ground.

“I really feel I’m starting to tighten that up.”

While the change in pitching style has been a big one, Robertson said it pales in comparison to the move from starter to reliever.

“I really see myself as a reliever now,” said Robertson, who has made more than 300 starts as a pro compared to roughly 120 relief appearances. “I’ve become comfortable with the role and how to prepare myself, and what I’m trying to do when I go out there.

“I’m still a student of [pitching in the] bullpen.”

Robertson was 4-4 with a 3.04 ERA last season with Round Rock, Texas, the Rangers’ Triple-A club in the Pacific Coast League. He has not pitched in the majors since making two appearances with Philadelphia in 2010.

“If [I get called up this season], to me it would be more rewarding to do it at this point in my career,” Robertson said. “To do it at this point in my career, with so much stuff that has happened, that would really be something.

“I remember how special it was to be called up, and those were incredible moments. But if it would happen it would mean a lot because there were more and bigger obstacles to clear.”

Robertson said he has no regrets coming back to the Tigers organization or to the Mud Hens.

“This is exactly what I wanted to happen,” Robertson said. “I get a chance to play in what I think is the greatest organization in baseball and to play in an area that feels like home.

“I know what is on the table and what I have to do. There are a lot of hurdles to clear, but I’m going to make sure I have fun doing this.

“I don’t have any idea how this is going to end, but I don’t try to think about that. This is what I want to do, and [Detroit] is giving me a chance to do it. We’ll see where it takes me.”

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.

 

 

AT THE PLATE:  Nate Robertson

■ Position: Pitcher.

■ Ht./​Wt.: 6-2/​225.

■ Hometown: Wichita, Kan.

■ Age: 36.

■ Family: Wife, Kristin; son Wyatt (6), daughter Shealyn (6 months).

■ Nickname: Kevin Hooper came up with “Lumpy,” or “Lump” for short.

■ Favorite way to spend time away from the field: With my kids and family. It doesn’t even have to be anything crazy. Just being around them is what I enjoy most.

■ Baseball players you admired growing up: Tom Glavine. The Braves were on TV a lot, and he was a left-handed pitcher like me, so I was drawn to watching him throw.

■ Favorite sport other than baseball: Football. I enjoy the rush of the game.

■ Favorite music: Country, but I also enjoy classic rock and there are Christian groups I enjoy.

■ Favorite meal: I’m a meat-and-potatoes guy, so a steak dinner. But chicken parmesan and sushi also are favorite.

■ Favorite beverage: Coffee.

■ Favorite movie: Braveheart.

■ Favorite TV show: The Wonder Years. I loved watching [Kevin Arnold] grow up.

■ Do you have a Twitter account? No.

■ Person you most admire: My parents, Dick and Cristy. I have a special relationship with my dad, who taught me lessons about life.

■ If you could meet any person who would it be? The most impactful person besides my family has to be Jesus Christ because of my faith, so I would like to meet Him.

■ Top sports moment: Starting in the World Series in 2006. Although I didn’t win, I pitched pretty well. You’re always dreaming to reach that moment.

■ Baseball superstitions: Not really. I just have to have my sleep and my coffee.

■ Something nobody knows about you: I am a part-owner of the Wichita Wingnuts, an independent baseball team in the American Association. I have a chance to see things from an ownership perspective, learning how [baseball] is a business while you’re trying to win championships.

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Tag(s): Mud Hens  John Wagner