Nate Robertson: throwing sidearm “is a rebirth for my career”

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Nate Robertson averaged 31 starts a year for the Tigers between 2004-2008, but he hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2010. He’s now 35 years-old and he’s fresh off a season where he posted an 8.07 ERA and 20/8 K/BB ratio over 29 innings for two different Triple-A teams. He even threw part of the season for the independent Wichita Wingnuts.

Usually that sort of thing means the end of one’s career or, at the very least, some serious soul-searching about it all. But Robertson is not giving up. He’s here in Rangers camp and, after speaking with him this morning, it’s fair to say that he’s feeling fantastic. The reason, as I mentioned earlier, was that he is a totally different pitcher. He’s now throwing sidearm.

“It’s a rebirth for my career,” Robertson told me. “I’m getting the kind of movement I used to have when I was young but lost when I got hurt.”

Robertson said that, at times, he’s surprised how much movement he gets from dropping down two a three-quarter arm slot. Indeed, it’s a far greater adjustment for him to get a sense of where the increased action will send his pitches than it was to make the actual physical change from going overhand to sidearm.

From a mechanics standpoint Robertson seems like a guy who has been throwing sidearm for his whole career. He’ll still occasionally mix in some overhand stuff, but he’s moving to a point where, he says, he’ll be exclusively throwing from the three-quarters slot. The HardballTalk Scouting Department (i.e. my girlfriend and her iPhone)– took this video of him in the bullpen on Saturday before entering the game against the Diamondbacks. He looks pretty free and easy:

The results, insofar as they matter in spring training, have been good. He’s thrown three innings without allowing a run. And, more importantly, without walking anyone. Not too bad for a guy who literally taught himself how to do this.

I asked him if, since he’s gotten into camp, there was anyone around to help him refine his approach. He said that while there aren’t any sidearmers around, he pointed across the clubhouse to Kenny Rogers and said “he used to throw the ball from all over the damn place” so from a standpoint of changing things up, Rogers has been a valuable resource. Otherwise, Robertson says, he’s still on his own.

My last question to Robertson was how the new delivery has him feeling the next morning. He said it’s amazing how great he feels the day after pitching now compared to when he threw overhand.  I asked him if it would be weird to be one of those guys who transforms from an injured starter to one of those rubber-armed dudes who throw 80 games a year. He smiled from ear to ear and said “That would be it, man. After all of this, that would be the best.”

It’s not at all clear that Robertson will make the Rangers. But if he doesn’t, he’s got things to showcase for other teams in need of a bullpen arm. And even if that doesn’t work out, he’s at least going out fighting, and I get the sense that that’s what most players would want.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.