Nate Robertson: New pitcher, same guy, old faces
Nate Robertson was preferring to stay under the radar in his return this spring. At age 36 with a sidearming delivery, groundball tendencies and a low home run rate, he’s not the same pitcher he was back when he was in the Tigers rotation from 2004-2008. Besides, he doesn’t really need to do a reunion tour.
The beard, however, is still there, as is the Midwestern speech patterns. The confidence, while tempered a bit by age, is still there, too.
He has the mileage of that 1998 Chevy Tahoe he still owns, the one Magglio Ordonez and Jeremy Bonderman used to rag him about. But unlike the Tahoe, which is sitting back home in Wichita with 185,000 miles on it after some scary shakes on a cross-country trip, Robertson feels he can still go at game speed.
“I reached out to Detroit,” he said of his minor-league deal signed a couple weeks ago. “I know there’s a lot of factors involved. Just with all being said, I wanted at least these guys here to get their eyes on it, just to look at it. And I’m fortunate and thankful for them just to take a look. And I’m having fun. But I wouldn’t have reached out unless I was confident in it.”
While Rick Porcello got in his work Wednesday pitching in a minor-league intersquad game on the back fields at Tigertown, Nate Robertson was quietly standing around outside the opposite field. Perhaps it was fitting. While Porcello works on finding the next step in his career towards becoming a front-line starter, Robertson is back where his career took off.
“Some guys think I’m a coach,” Robertson joked, noting that ex-teammate Mike Maroth — born the same year — is the pitching coach at Class A Lakeland.
Robertson believes his stuff can play, and his stats from last year at least make it intriguing. He had some respectable numbers in the Pacific Coast League last year, going 4-4 with a 3.04 ERA and allowing 45 hits over 50 1/3 innings for Triple-A Round Rock in the Rangers system. He walked 23, struck out 40 and didn’t allow a single home run. He held left-handed hitters to a .213 average (17-for-80) with eight walks and 23 strikeouts.
“Here’s the thing: Even if you miss your spot, you have enough movement on the ball to just get off that barrel,” he said of the home-run power outage. “These guys are just trying to barrel it up, and if you leave something out over the plate, they can track it and barrel it. But if I have just enough, just a half an inch, to get off that barrel, it keeps it in the ballpark. …
“To do what I did in a very hitter friendly league, it proved well. Those are tough places to pitch.”
The Rangers bullpen, meanwhile, is a tough place to crack. Simply put, as good as his numbers were, there wasn’t a place for an old lefty in Texas.
“They really didn’t need me,” he said. “They had a couple lefties up there, Neal Cotts and Robbie Ross, that threw extremely well all year.”
He might have been hoping for another non-roster invite to Spring Training, but it never came together. The Tigers were looking for lefty relief depth in the system, having just added fellow ex-Tiger Wil Ledezma under similar circumstances, but not a camp invite this late.
If he’s going to try to make it under these circumstances, he might as well do it where he feels comfortable. He said he had goose bumps making the drive in to Tigertown once again, putting him back in Lakeland.
“You have to ask yourself if you think [the stuff] plays with a big-league lineup and a big-league hitter’s approach, and I think so,” Robertson said. “But the biggest thing is I’m back here where it feels like it’s home, and I’m glad to be back. I’m just having fun with it. I’m in a good place with it, and we’ll see where it goes. …
“I’ll tell you this, and it’s no knock, it’s just an acknowledgement from my standpoint: Out of eight organizations I’ve been with, it’s not even close. Now there’s really good baseball people in all these organizations I’ve been in, but as an organization, nothing compares. I just think it’s as good as it gets.”
Either way, he said, he’s going to be fine with it. Even if this is it for him, it’s back where he started.
“I think it’s going to end OK no matter what. That’s how I feel,” he said. “The biggest thing is just how much I appreciate the organization to just take a look.”