The latest proof that Cactus League performance means little: New White Sox closer David Robertson, who worked through some arm soreness and didn’t show very much in March.
“I didn’t throw anything worth a dang in spring training,’’ Robertson said.
Robertson hasn’t thrown anything bad since. After the regular-season lights went on he has been lights out with five scoreless appearances including 10 strikeouts and one walk and one hit allowed going into the Sox game against the Kansas City Royals Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
“I couldn’t wait to get out of there,’’ Robertson said of Arizona. “I was scuffling. I was throwing really poor.’’
Robertson, who came up in the New York Yankees system where he always trained in Florida, trained in the desert air for the first time.
“It was a big change coming to Arizona from Florida,’’ he said. “Next year I’ll have more of an idea of what to expect.
“I wasn’t worried because I know what I’m capable of doing. It was a matter of getting into a game that counts.’’
Adrenaline matters to Robertson, who adapted to pitching under pressure as a setup man for Mariano Rivera in New York before taking over as the Yankees closer last season. He recorded 39 saves in his contract year and signed with the Sox as a free agent for $46 million over four years.
Robertson embraces the role, and the responsibility that comes with it.
“We get a lead, I want to hold it,’’ he said. “These guys work their tails off the entire game to get a lead. My job is to shut it down as quickly as possible.’’
Robertson didn’t throw many competitive cut fastballs in the spring, nothing much resembling what he’s showing now. He didn’t master that pitch because of Rivera, but being around perhaps the best closer ever didn’t hurt.
“I started playing professional ball my ball starting cutting a little bit,’’ Robertson said. “In A ball [in 2007] my pitching coach Carlos Reyes made one suggestion to me that changed my career. Instead of switching grips for different hitter, he told me to just hold everything the same way and throw it.
“When I got to meet Mo, we talked about it [the cutter]. He held the ball very similar. His hand’s a little bigger and his mechanics are a little different but the ball comes out of our hand the same way. Our release points are very similar. His moved more, though, and he mastered one pitch, that’s the big difference.’’
Robertson’s cutter might not move quite as much but it has great, late break. His knuckle curveball has been good, too, and because his body and joints are exceptionally flexible (he was into gymnastics as a kid) he makes up for being relatively short for a pitcher (5-11) by getting above-average extension of about seven feet that can make a 93-mph fastball look like 95 to a hitter.
“You always want to come out doing good,’’ he said of his fast start. “But I feel like pitchers now always have a bit of an edge on hitters. They haven’t seen as many pitches. It’s not warm. If you’re throwing well now you can get outs a little easier. You get away with more pitches this time of year.’’
In his five innings of work Robertson has collected two saves and a win and is racking up the strikeouts, boosting his career average of 12.07 strikeouts per 9.0 innings pitched. That ranks third in major-league history among pitchers with at least 300 innings, trailing Carlos Marmol (12.33) and Rob Dibble (12.17).