In 2006, he was a bulldog. Gum Time was at the top of his game. The lefty made it a habit of carving up opposing lefties with his hard biting slider. In 2008, when Nate Robertson signed his extension, he was part of a nucleus that was the future on the mound for the Detroit Tigers.
Now in 2009, he is just trying to fit in.
That battle continues tonight, as one of Detroit’s most beloved pitchers at one point this decade returns to the mound looking to have success. Striving for the fun factor. Tonight Nate will dig deep: for command, velocity, and hopefully the Big League Chew. In his first start of the season, Robertson will look to grasp something oh so familiar. Tonight he is facing more than a bunch of rays. He is just trying to become one.
Starting 2009 as a bottom feeder, and working his way back to the open ocean.
A body of water that hasn’t been so kind to him in 2009. His time in the bullpen has been everything short of pretty. A 7.71 earned run average in 21 appearances would lead to most pitchers being chased out of town. His .326 average against lefties has many wishing that the Tigers organization will take his remaining seven million for this year, and remaining ten million for next year, and sweep it under the rug.
I’m hoping to see that stare down again. The passion, competitiveness and drive Nate has brought to the table in the past. The same guy that would do anything for a win. It didn’t matter if it meant getting out of a jam, or helping his team rally with some glorified gum and a inverted cap. Most importantly, I want to see him as a kid again. Loving the game like he did as a boy in Wichita. Taking the mound with a fearless, bulldog mentality. Knowing that he is playing the game he loves, and smiling at every opportune time.
And though I might be crazy, I believe that tonight it is truly obtainable.
Maybe it is the hope in me. Maybe it’s the fact that in his last start in Toledo, Robertson hurled 43 of his 46 pitches in the strike zone. Maybe it’s because his slider has some bite back on it, as witness by the nine Louisville hitters who headed back to the dugout flustered. Maybe I realize that if Nate Robertson by some miracle comes back to form, then the Tigers have found the final piece to the puzzle.
A piece that brings leadership to the clubhouse, another lefty to the rotation, and somebody who has just ‘been there’. Undoubtedly he is going to give up some runs in key situations, despite is 1.89 ERA in 19 innings with AAA Toledo. If on track though, he could keep the Tigers offense in the ballgame. In 2006, he was the definition of a bulldog. He has been there when the offense behind him gave him no support. In the run to the World Series, Robertson put together a solid 3.84 ERA. Out of the 80 pitchers that year that qualified for the ERA title, Robertson finished 67th in run support. He was still able to put together a 13-13 season. His performance in game number one of the ALCS set the tone for the Tigers throughout that series.
Hopefully he can do that today, as the Tigers look back on one starter that still hopes to have a future in the Old English D. Here’s to Nate Robertson ‘bulldoggin’ on the mound today.
For it’s not about the lineup he’s facing, the lack of speed on his fastball, or the domination of his slider. All it is about today is three words: Getting hitters out.