Friday, January 23, 2009
Nate Robertson: Flexible
This probably won't be that funny, but I'm in a cranky mood. From the Tigers site.
DETROIT -- Nate Robertson is walking in temperatures around 10 degrees Tuesday as he leaves the comfort of his car for Calihan Hall on the campus of the University of Detroit Mercy. His mind, meanwhile, is all the way down in the warmer climates of Florida. It's the power of positive thinking.
Wish I could do that. My mind's still on Nate's 6.35 ERA from last year. How he got shelled in every outing. About how much cash we still owe him...
And at this point, he's very positive about the way he has prepared for Spring Training.
He has never really been jealous of those players who live and train in Florida.
Nate was the worst pitcher in baseball last year. I'll bet he was at least a little jealous.
The Kansas native has always considered himself a winter guy, and prided himself on being the only Tiger who lives in the area year-round.
As opposed to priding himself on the 26 homers he gave up in 168.2 innings or his -13.6 VORP.
This is the first winter, he admits, that has gotten to him. Weather-wise, it's the toughest winter he can remember since moving to Michigan in 2003.
Six Michigan winters and you're a "winter guy". Quit kissing ass, Nate. Put on a scarf and quit crying.
Baseball-wise, it's also the most important winter Robertson has faced since coming to Detroit. It's not simply about working hard; he's always done that. This year was about working smart.
So...Nate has been working dumb the past few years? I thought that was Zumaya's department. Has Nate been lifting 50 pound crates of live rattlesnakes in the offseasons before this?
Robertson ended 2008 facing questions about his shape as much as his pitching form. The Tigers' diagnosis was that his flexibility was gone, and it wasn't allowing him to pitch the same as years past. He was a strong pitcher, but stocky, and he couldn't afford to be.
"You suck, you fat bastard." Oh, snap. The Tigers should have their own show on the CW Network.
As team doctors also discovered, he also had a bone spur in his left hip that was throwing off his motion.
Remember, kids, bone spurs make every pitch you throw go straight down the middle of the plate every time.
Immediately after season's end, Robertson was stretching out that big frame in a Pilates class.
Oops...so much for straight.
He didn't want to wait and stew. He jumped into his offseason workout program from there. Three weeks before pitchers and catchers report, it's almost done, and he can feel the difference.
"I feel that flexibility. I really do," Robertson said. "I think it's worked out real good so far. Everything feels more loose."
So, you weren't flexible enough to throw a slider last year? Now, Dontrelle, I can understand. He ate at every McDonalds he saw on his way from Florida to Detroit last year and wasn't flexible enough to do that ridiculous throwing motion of his. But you, Nate? Much like season tickets, I'm not buying it.
On this particular day, he's feeling good, weather aside. He has Pilates three times a week with an instructor. In between, he's here on campus, doing more traditional work under the watch of Nick Wilson, a strength and conditioning coach at the university who used to work with the Toledo Mud Hens.
What? No Jazzercise?
Tigers strength and conditioning coach Javair Gillett,
"The Best A Man Can Get"
who designed Robertson's program and set him up with Wilson, is also here on this day. He has been traveling to check on players all winter, including Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera in Venezuela, but he's in town this week ahead of team physicals and the Tigers' winter caravan.
Instead of wasting money on all these plane tickets, couldn't we have signed a closer that gives up less than 2 hits an inning? Did Maggs and Carlos turn into Manny Ramirez all of the sudden? We can't trust them to take care of themselves?
Together, Robertson and Gillett go through the whole program -- stretching, jumping, agility drills and resistance work in the workout area.
This image is much more entertaining if you imagine music from "The Karate Kid" in the background. "You're the best. Around!"
Robertson gets to put country music on the radio, but Gillett and Wilson get to supply the chatter.
Country music and chatter. This is going to make Nate Robertson a 20 game winner in 2009.
The workouts are specific. Picking up a weight ball while balancing on one leg strengthens his back. Other exercises focus on strengthening his push-off leg for his delivery, or the other leg for getting down and fielding ground balls. Most of the exercises are focused on his lower body and core, where the power for the pitches is generated, with some targeting his shoulder. By workout's end, his calves are barking.
He's doing well on the balance beam and the floor exercise, but the uneven bars are a bitch.
"You figure you're pushing off that back leg [a hundred] times in a game," Wilson said. "That's really the focus."
Or in Nate's case, he's only doing it about fifty times. By then, he's given up six runs and nine hits, walking four and Gary Glover's on his way in to make it worse.
Having Wilson around, Robertson said, has made a big difference. He trained for several years with Dennie Taft, the Tigers' well-respected former strength and conditioning coach who stayed in the area for a few years afterward until last winter. Robertson worked out the same program at a gym near his home, sometimes with fellow big league pitcher Charlie Haeger, other times by himself.
Wasn't Haeger a knuckleball pitcher? THAT'S what Nate needs to do. Don't need to be flexible to through a knuckler. Look at Tim Wakefield. He looks like as much of an athlete as I do.
"It didn't work out as well," Robertson said.
As Wilson pointed out, having somebody around who knows his strengths and weaknesses helps.
Yep. His strengths are chewing bubble gum and cheerleading. His weakness is pitching a baseball.
"We push him pretty good," Wilson said. "He's responded well."
On most days, Robertson would play catch on the arena floor. However, he has a bullpen session scheduled, so he has to find a pitching mound. Thus, having worked up a good sweat, Robertson heads back into the cold and drives to Comerica Park to meet bullpen coach Jeff Jones.
Finally...he's pitching. I was worried that he was just trying to backflip onto the field like Ozzie Smith used to do.
He warms up in the Tigers clubhouse, virtually empty except for the clubhouse personnel doing preparations for Spring Training, then gets another cold blast as he walks down the tunnel towards the dugout.
Spring Training's in Lakeland. Why are clubhouse personnel doing preparations for Spring Training in Detroit? Just asking...
Even if Robertson wanted to throw outside, the half-foot of snow on the field wouldn't allow it. So he veers into the batting cages, one of which includes a mound, and fires away. The echo from the pop of Jones' mitt alternates with the crack of Brandon Inge's bat as he takes some swings nearby. He's supposed to throw at 70 percent strength under new pitching coach Rick Knapp's program, so he has to gauge himself.
As opposed to the 30 percent that Chuck Hernandez had him throwing at in games last year.
It's here, as Robertson throws his 50 pitches, where Robertson really feels the impact of the Pilates. He first noticed his hip bothering him in 2005, he admitted, but not as often as it did last year. It would catch in his delivery and not allow him to get around the same way. As Knapp explained, his pitches would drift, and his slider was moving more side-to-side than downward.
Great...Knapp's a know-it-all. Can't we just say that the guy sucked last year?
"If you strengthen everything around that [hip] socket," Robertson said, "it wouldn't catch."
That's how his delivery now feels. And as he packs up to head home to his wife and son, he's feeling pretty good about it. He doesn't want to say he feels in the best shape of his career, because he felt good going into the last few seasons. This year, he feels good about the specific issues he had to address.
Like being the worst pitcher in baseball last year.
"It almost felt [before] like you're too bulky," Robertson said. "You don't feel that free and easy movement, and I feel that [now]."
Being at the park reminds Robertson how soon the season will creep up. He's counting the days until he and his family leave this weather for Lakeland, but that's not the only reason. Considering the way last season ended for him, it can't get here soon enough.
"It's been good this year," Robertson said. "It actually went pretty fast. That's good."
What? This makes no sense to me.
Whatever. Pilates, yoga, threesomes with midgets...I don't care, Nate. Just get your crap together. Pitch like you did a couple years ago and I'll leave you alone. Believe it or not, I'm pulling for you.