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Robinson makes most of surprise inning of relief

May 13, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

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PHOENIX — There had been 1,651 games in Nationals history over the last decade, far too many of them blowout losses, especially during some of the lean, early years of the franchise’s existence in the District. But it wasn’t until Game No. 1,652 that the situation became so dire as to require the services of a position player taking the mound to pitch.

And when it finally happened in the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s 14-6 loss to the Diamondbacks, the man who was given the ball for a surprise relief appearance was one few would have ever predicted would be the first to perform such a feat: Clint Robinson.

“It’s never something you want to do,” manager Matt Williams said. “But sometimes in games like this, we just can’t stretch our bullpen any further.”

So it was that Robinson, the 30-year-old rookie first baseman/left fielder, found himself taking the mound at Chase Field to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning in a real, live, major-league ballgame. And then all he did was toss a scoreless frame, retiring three of the four batters he faced and notching a strikeout in the process.

How exactly did Robinson become the choice for this particular duty? Well, he did pitch in high school in Dothan, Ala., way back in 2003. And he (along with fellow bench player Tyler Moore) had let the coaching staff know previously he could do it if needed some day. So with the Nationals getting shellacked Tuesday night, three relievers having already pitched and others needed to be saved for the rest of this road trip, Williams approached both Robinson and Moore in the dugout and asked if either wanted to pitch.

“Yeah, I’ll do it,” Robinson replied. “Absolutely.”

“OK,” Williams informed him. “You got the eighth inning.”

Robinson’s first career inning got off to a shaky start — he allowed a base hit to David Peralta on an 80-mph fastball — but he quickly found his groove. Robinson proceeded to retire the next three batters, including veteran second baseman Aaron Hill via strikeout, prompting the Nationals dugout to shout for the ball to be tossed their way to be authenticated and presented to Robinson for display on his mantel.

He wound up throwing seven of his nine pitches for strikes, featuring a fastball that sat at 80-82 mph and a slider that registered between 72-74 mph. Those radar gun readings were down considerably from the last time he pitched as a high school senior, when he said he regularly threw in the low-90s.

“I threw quite a bit harder,” he said. “I’m kind of a big guy and had a decent arm. But you take 12 years off from pitching, I didn’t really expect it to be there.”

Robinson had no idea he was the first position player in Nationals history to pitch. In fact, the Expos/Nationals franchise hadn’t put a position player on the mound since July 20, 1990, when both Junior Noboa and Dave Martinez appeared during a 12-6 loss at Houston.

Plenty of Nationals over the last decade had desperately wanted to make their pitching debuts, with Adam Dunn, Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper at the top of the list. Previous managers, though, either were opposed to the idea or never found themselves quite desperate enough to go through with it.

When it finally happened Tuesday, nobody exactly knew how to react. Catcher Wilson Ramos had no idea what was in Robinson’s repertoire until the two met at the mound at the start of the inning.

“He just told me: ‘Fastball, slider. That’s it,'” Ramos said. “I called it. He never shook me off.”

Robinson took everything in stride, trying to downplay the significance of this given the way the team struggled throughout Tuesday’s game.

“To be honest with you, to me it’s not really that big a deal,” he said. “It’s just one game. I was just helping out. It’s cool to think about now, but I was just kind of in the moment, in the zone. I don’t really want that attention when we’re losing a game like that.”

Robinson did emerge from the experience with an appreciation for the physical toll pitching in the big leagues takes.

“I’m sure I won’t be feeling too hot tomorrow,” he said. “I have a new respect for what those guys go out there and do. I’ve got little sores in my body that I usually don’t have after a game.”

Robinson also emerged with a souvenir ball and a great story to tell his grandkids some day.

“Yeah, it’s something I never thought I would do,” he said. “Just last year I was in L.A. wondering if I’m ever going to get my first big-league hit. And now I’ve got my first major-league strikeout. So it’s just checking off another thing on the baseball bucket list for me.”

  1. Eugene in Oregon - May 13, 2015 at 9:13 AM

    Glad the game produced at least one feel-good story (on the Nats’ side). I had to miss the first five innings, which was probably for the best.

    • ArVAFan - May 13, 2015 at 10:19 AM

      And Solis got his first hit, in front of friends and family. And the hitting streak continued. And Harper homered. And no one got injured (except the umpire, and he should be okay). And the Mets lost. And the score of today’s game is 0-0.

      So it’s not all bad.

      • Eugene in Oregon - May 13, 2015 at 10:28 AM

        So a pitcher got his first MLB hit and a position player got his first (pitching) K in the same game? Funny sport sometimes.

      • homeparkdc - May 13, 2015 at 10:58 AM

        Fun to see Clint Robinson listed as a pitcher today: http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/WSN/2015.shtml
        His pitching WAR is 0.0.
        And Doug Fister’s batting WAR is 0.2 (Desmond is 0.1, the same as Scherzer).
        You’ve got to love crazy stats the day after. FP called last night’s slump on Monday. Can’t remember if he said anything about the third game of a road trip, though. Does it get better or worse?

  2. alexva6 - May 13, 2015 at 9:24 AM

    after Solis got out of the fourth, the correct move was to Roark. He’s pitch 2/3 of an inning in the last week.

    MW has been given an inexperienced bullpen but he compounds the problem with his experience managing it.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 13, 2015 at 10:02 AM

      Matt is inexperienced in bullpen management (what I think you meant to say), but McCatty is not. You’d think Cat would help him out there. I assume Roark was available.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 13, 2015 at 10:10 AM

      That was mop-up work as they call it. Perfect for Solis to save Roark for today. Unfortunately, Solis had a poor outing also.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 13, 2015 at 10:49 AM

        On the game on April 28th where Cole started and was pulled and it was Roark who came in for mop-up as Solis joined the team on April 29th.

        You generally would want Roark behind Gio to the get that Left-right thing going and last night you had Solis behind Strasburg for the Right-left thing if it didn’t go well as happened.

    • ITGSOT - May 13, 2015 at 11:17 AM

      Roark can be the long guy/starter in waiting, or he can be a guy they use in high leverage situations. But he can’t be both. Right now he’s the high leverage guy.

  3. tcostant - May 13, 2015 at 9:26 AM

    Maybe they can give away booblehead of this on the 20 year anniversity….

  4. natsfan1a - May 13, 2015 at 10:00 AM

    Haven’t yet watched the recording, but this I must see. LaRoche was the first person I thought of when I saw that Robinson had pitched an inning. Forgot about Dunn. Wasn’t he supposed to have a knuckler, or was that Meat Hook? Dunn did get his shot, with the White Sox. Maybe LaRoche will get his there, too. 🙂

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 13, 2015 at 10:06 AM

      Just skip ahead to Harper’s home run, and then the eighth.

      Oh, and for position players pitching … sure, it’s all fun and games until somebody loses a UCL.

  5. Ghost of Steve M. - May 13, 2015 at 10:08 AM

    I love his statline with the 9.00 K/9 and 0.00 ERA.

  6. veejh - May 13, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    I hate to say it, but I think Strasburgs inconsistency throughout the years has been a result of his mental fortitude. Even when he’s been fully 100%, he’d pitch a gem, and back it up with a clunker. What else could it be?

    • Eugene in Oregon - May 13, 2015 at 10:37 AM

      I’m not sure I buy the ‘mental fortitude’ argument, per se, but I suspect both that NatsJack and Wilson Ramos are onto something. NatsJack recently wrote about Stephen Strasburg being a ‘perfectionist’ and Mr. Ramos last night described it as over-thinking the situation (or something to that effect). I can appreciate that someone who was the first overall pick, is labelled ‘Jesus’ by some, and started his career with a 14K/Sports-Illustrated-cover performance (if I recall correctly), could put an awful lot of pressure on himself. But to me that’s not mental weakness, it’s almost being too competitive (and, in a sense, competing against an impossible-to-achieve image of yourself and your potential).

      • npb99 - May 13, 2015 at 11:01 AM

        The Wilson comments got my attention too. The tone was measured, but content still quite critical.

    • masterfishkeeper - May 13, 2015 at 10:41 AM

      How can any of us know if it is his mental fortitude? Could be that his mechanics are inconsistent. Could be a lot of things.

      • adcwonk - May 13, 2015 at 12:44 PM

        You mean you can’t create a psychological profile or diagnose psychological weaknesses just by watching TV?

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 13, 2015 at 2:59 PM

        I don’t see why not. We don’t have any trouble doing it with one another in here.

        😉

      • Michael White - May 13, 2015 at 6:38 PM

        As per Yogi Berra, baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.

  7. Theophilus T.S. - May 13, 2015 at 11:05 AM

    A “hint” on MLB Central this a.m. that Strasburg’s problem is physical, disclaimers notwithstanding. I’m not buying — see my posts on the previous thread — but The Brain Trust must have that in the back of their minds. I

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