It’s a little late in the season to be toying with your staring rotation, especially if you are a team fighting for October. The Tigers were not necessarily looking for another starter, but they have stumbled upon one. His name is familiar, and if your memory allows you to reach back a few years, so are his results. The Tigers have found Nate Robertson.
Robertson came to spring camp this season without an assured spot in the Tigers’ starting rotation, and he was unable to win one. Even though injuries kept Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis from starting the year with the big club, Robertson was the odd man out and relegated to bullpen work. Instead, Zach Miner got the call to work as a starter.
That really didn’t go so well for Nate. In 21 relief outings, Robertson posted an unsightly 7.71 ERA. Over the past two seasons, he had lost some five MPH off of his fastball, and his trademark slider had become ineffective. Once a reliable, stable force in the middle of the rotation that won the American League Championship in 2006, Robertson was staring squarely at the end of his Tigers’ career.
In June, Robertson was placed on the disabled list and shortly thereafter underwent elbow surgery to remove four tissue masses that had developed around the joint. Two months of rehab was followed by a journey to AAA Toledo, where Robertson worked as a starter, and posted very encouraging numbers. Perhaps the most encouraging was the number on the radar gun. Though he has yet to regain all of his former velocity, no longer is Nate throwing 87-88 MPH with his fastball, he has been working in the low 90s.
When Armando Galarraga had to miss a scheduled start due to elbow inflammation last week, it was Robertson that got the call. He worked four innings, allowing two runs (one earned) against Tampa, but took the loss. On a full five days rest, with Galarraga still unable to go, Robertson got another start, this time against Cleveland.
The results? How does six innings of shutout ball grab you? Robertson walked two and allowed four hits, all of them singles. He left the game following his 80th pitch, a swinging strike out of Shin Soo Choo. It was Robertson’s fourth strike out of the game.
With Jarrod Washburn already scratched from his next scheduled start with a bum knee, Galarraga will return to fill-in on Saturday. Washburn has been tentatively penciled in to start next Tuesday instead, in what would be Robertson’s next turn.
My personal feeling is that at this time of the year, with the Twins coming on strong, you have got to ride the hot hand. Right now, that hand certainly does not belong to Washburn, it belongs to Nate Robertson.
I suspect Jim Leyland knows that, and will act accordingly. Perhaps Washburn could benefit from an additional few days to rest his knee. Based solely on recent performance, Robertson is deserving of the next start, and the one after that at least. In the ten innings he has pitched since his return, Robertson has allowed just eight hits and one earned run. Over that span, he has lowered his ERA from 7.71 to 5.52.
The Tigers bullpen robbed Robertson of a win he deserved against Cleveland, Leyland should not rob him of a start he deserves to make on Tuesday.