DETROIT -- As David Robertson struggled last week, bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen believed from his closing experience that a subtle suggestion might do more than drastic measures.
Thigpen -- who converted 201 of 253 saves in his career -- understands the pass/fail nature of the role and is impressed with how Robertson handled himself. But he also knows how doubt can creep into a closer’s mind when they struggle like Robertson did. Thigpen figured Robertson, who has converted on 31 of 38 tries this season, might be open to -- and benefit from -- a minor change and suggested he lower his arm slot Monday. Within several pitches, Thigpen saw a much sharper curveball and a more confident Robertson, who struck out two in a scoreless inning.
“I’ve told him a couple of times during the year just because I see how he throws the ball and how it comes out, ‘You may be a little bit too high on this one’ because I see him getting caught up,” Thigpen said. “Last night he freed himself up so he could get out there and snap (it) off.
“When you’re going good and pitching as well as he has it’s hard to make an adjustment, a big adjustment, because they’ve been doing it so long and they’ve had success. Sometimes it takes a couple of bad outings to open your mind and he did. “He goes ‘Maybe you’re right’ and then boom.”
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Thigpen and pitching coach Don Cooper discussed several minor fixes for Robertson to try to alter his routine because “All of a sudden you get something to click like that and your mindset becomes totally different,” he said.
These weren’t fixes to be worked on in neither a bullpen session, nor something where they trotted Robertson out for extra work. While Robertson’s earned-run average increased from 2.44 to 3.39 in a span of three outings, it’s not the first time he experienced failure. Instead of making a big show of it, Thigpen made the suggestion to Robertson as he began to throw in the bullpen for his ninth-inning appearance. Robertson threw a warmup pitch using the slot with a good result, to which Thigpen asked, ‘You got the feeling, right?’
“He gets the most looks at me,” Robertson said. “We were just talking about it when I was warming up. When I was coming in, we were talking about it. ‘Yeah, I was trying to get it down.’ He said ‘It looks good.’ That was it.”
Though it was a minor suggestion, it had a major impact as Robertson had his best outing in more than two weeks. Thigpen believes it was a nice step for Robertson, who believes his performance this season hasn’t been up to his standards.
“The best thing that happened was (the change) made him feel better about himself,” Thigpen said. “All of a sudden he’s like ‘There it is, that’s what was missing.’ And you could tell by the way he threw, just getting after it 100 percent … He was 100 percent committed and sure about every pitch. Just a little bit of adjustment helped him feel better in his own mind and he took it from there.”