Robertson, Tigers top Mariners
04/23/2006 1:42 AM ET
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- That was the pitcher that manager Jim Leyland wanted to see out of Nate Robertson.The Tigers left-hander didn't get much run support, and he didn't get much breathing room for the jams he faced. For seven innings, he pitched out of it. Saturday's 2-0 win over the Mariners at Safeco Field showed that the pitcher who once said he had little control over the outcome of a game could be in complete control of a pitchers duel.
"This could be a big step, hopefully," Leyland said. "Hopefully now he sees what can happen if you keep your concentration and you go about your business, something good can happen instead of something bad. I think that's a big issue. Hopefully tonight, we got over that hurdle, because that was very impressive what he did. He was tremendous."
On a night when the Tigers converted 10 hits into just two runs, and didn't add the second run until the eighth inning, Robertson rolled on. His only two hits allowed over seven innings were infield singles, yet every baserunner carried the threat to tie the ballgame.
"I needed to show a controlled ballgame," Robertson said. "I needed to control a game from start to finish with the time that I was in. I controlled it, he got to see it, and now we move on."
The last game Robertson pitched was the loss that preceded Leyland's now-famous Monday outburst to the team before heading to the West Coast. He was knocked out of that contest by a six-run third inning in which eight of nine hitters reached base safely on him. Leyland's tirade wasn't directed at him, but there was a longer-running issue with him being able to pitch out of trouble.
Leyland said Friday he saw Robertson trying to pitch too perfectly when in trouble. On Saturday, he wasn't far from perfect.
"He was more aggressive," Leyland said. "He had a little bit of velocity on some pitches. He used his changeup very well, very effectively. He had a little more bulldog in him, and at the same time kept his composure much, much better."
Robertson retired Seattle's first nine hitters in order before Ichiro Suzuki beat him to first base on a dribbler leading off the fourth inning. He was erased one batter later when Jose Lopez hit a hard liner right at first baseman Chris Shelton.
Richie Sexson led off the next inning with a walk, but became catcher Ivan Rodriguez's first baserunning victim of the season when he was thrown out at second base. A two-out walk to Carl Everett extended the inning for Adrian Beltre, but his shot died on the right-field warning track.
The real test for Robertson came in the seventh. Lopez led it off with a chopper off home plate that bounced all the way beyond the mound. He advanced to second when Robertson's next pitch hit Raul Ibanez, putting the potential tying run in scoring position with no outs and the middle of Seattle's lineup coming to bat.
Leyland came to the mound to make sure his pitcher was calm, but he had no intention of taking him out. He wanted to see Robertson work out of it.
"When a manager comes out in a situation like that, leaves you in and believes in you, that's something to take to the bank," Robertson said. "It did a lot for me. He let me win or lose my ballgame."
His test became tougher when his next two pitches missed the strike zone on Sexson. He had to get back to even in the count without giving Sexson something to power. What both Leyland and pitching coach Chuck Hernandez had told him in those situations, he said, was to focus on making a pitch without worrying about the results.
Sexson fouled off the next pitch, then swung at and missed another. After the count went full, Robertson spotted a called third strike on the inside corner at Sexson's knees.
Kenji Johjima followed with a hard-hit grounder up the middle, but second baseman Placido Polanco had time to field it and step on second base before firing to first to complete the inning-ending double play as well as Robertson's outing and his impression on his new manager.
"He really showed me something," Leyland said. "He got in a jam and pitched out of it."
Detroit's offense, by contrast, struggled to convert jams against Gil Meche (1-1) and Julio Mateo. Magglio Ordonez's two-out double scoring Rodriguez in the first inning was the game's only run until Craig Monroe hit an opposite-field homer off Mateo with two outs in the eighth.
"I had a rough night tonight," said Monroe, who had struck out in his previous two at-bats and hadn't had a hit since Wednesday at Oakland. "To be able to end on a positive note and drive the ball the other way, it tells me I did everything right and to trust in myself. That was a very positive at-bat today."
Meche struggled with his control for much of his outing, allowing six hits in as many innings plus three walks. However, his seven strikeouts and two outs at the plate kept him in the game.
For the third consecutive night, Detroit's starting pitching kept the Tigers in it as well. Robertson, Mike Maroth and Jeremy Bonderman have combined for 19 scoreless innings since Oakland's three-run first inning off Bonderman Thursday. In so doing, they've won three consecutive games scoring four or fewer runs, something they did just 21 times last season.
"It's certainly what we weren't doing last year," Robertson said. "When the pitching was clicking, the hitting wasn't. And when the hitting was clicking, the pitching wasn't. The thing is, sometimes when the hitting's not clicking, the pitchers need to step up. It's big for teams that win to step up."
The same goes for pitchers that win.