Cliff Lee's most effective pitch came after he was taken out of the game.<br><br> Lee threw his…
Thrown A Change
* The Astros would try to convert him into a relief pitcher; * He was traded to the Indians in a deal near the end of spring training; * He was moved back and forth between Buffalo and Cleveland two times; * He also was shifted back and forth between starting and relieving; * Finally, he was designated for assignment on July 27, meaning any team in baseball could claim him. As of Aug. 2, no one had done so, leading to the distinct possibility the left-hander will end up back in Buffalo. When the 2003 season ended, such a scenario seemed nearly impossible. It looked like a virtual certainty that Robertson would be a member of the Astros' starting rotation for a long, long time. Yes, life seemed good for the 6-1, 200-pounder. "When I got to the offseason, I didn't have too many worries," he said. "Coming off the 15-win season, I felt pretty good." "Then, when I was in Phoenix, Jimy Williams (the Astros' manager at the time) gave me a phone call." Williams told Robertson that with the free-agent signings of veterans Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, his days in the rotation, at least temporarily, were over. He was headed to the bullpen. And not the Astros' bullpen. He was likely headed back to the minors in order to learn how to be a relief pitcher. Except for the 2001 season, when he was used exclusively out of the bullpen, Robertson had been a starting pitcher his entire professional career, which dated back to his being the Astros' 24th-round draft choice in 1995. "That (being sent to the bullpen) was a shock," he said. "It was hard for me to handle." But, realistically, Robertson knew it was about the only thing the Astros, who had their sights set on winning their first World Series title, could do. "When you get guys like Pettitte and Clemens, two future Hall of Famers, you've got to send the rookie down," Robertson said. "It was bad from my standpoint. It was terrible. But it is just part of the game." Robertson's mindset quickly changed. "Going to the bullpen was something I was willing to do for a year or so, then get back in the starting rotation," he said. Just when he was starting to get used to his new role in the Astros' bullpen, he was traded to the Indians on March 30 in exchange for minor-league outfielders Luke Scott and Willy Taveras. Even though it's a shock when you get traded, especially the first time, Robertson said he looked at the deal as an opportunity to return to his first love, the starting rotation. The Indians were looking for starting pitching depth and Robertson seemed like a prime candidate to eventually challenge for the No. 4 or 5 spots in Cleveland's rotation. He began the season at Buffalo, but was called up April 20 as the Indians looked for every possible solution to the team's early-season bullpen problems. Unfortunately, instead of bringing a fire extinguisher, he poured more gasoline onto the blaze. In his first appearance for the Indians, he allowed eight runs in 5 1/3 innings and soon thereafter was shuffling back to Buffalo. Tribe fans saw what really is a typical left-hander ... a soft-tosser who must hit his spots and get solid defense behind him. "There are not too many guys in baseball who can sit there and blow people away," said Robertson, who had a less-than-spectacular 5.10 ERA a year ago while compiling 15 victories. "I'm like most guys. They go into a game trying to get hitters out quickly so they don't have to throw too many pitches. You want to get a ground ball or a fly ball; whatever it takes to get a quick out. "That's the kind of pitcher I am. It's just a matter of me making a good pitch or getting a call from an umpire when I hit a good spot. "I need to get ahead in the count and get guys to go after my pitches and not hit it with the square part of the bat. I need to get them to hit it off their hands or off the end of the bat. It is my job to not let them hit it flush. "If the ball falls in and they didn't hit it flush, then I have to tip my cap to them. I look at it as though he just has the baseball gods on his side." Unfortunately, far too many batters have been hitting Robertson's pitches with the square part of the bat this season, which is why he has been on the Buffalo shuffle. "You can't let it get you down," he said. "Baseball can be a frustrating game at times, but I've seen both sides. I've been there when it is the greatest game ever and I've been there when it frustrates me like hell. Still, it is the greatest game ever. I still have a great deal of love for the game." Bisons pitching coach Ken Rowe worked to transform Robertson into a full-time relief pitcher. "He struggled a little bit as a starter, so we wanted to see what he could do out of the bullpen," Rowe said. "This may be his avenue. It is something we had to find out. Until this year, he had never come out of the bullpen, so there are some adjustments he needed to make." Rowe says Robertson is typical of most major-leaguers who get sent back to the minors. "When you get sent down to Triple-A and do not do well, it really creates a bad feeling," Rowe said. "Sometimes you lose your confidence; you get confused. "Hopefully, he will have some good outings out of the bullpen and regain what he had before both mentally and physically." Robertson longs for the day he will be in the major leagues to stay. "There is no doubt the major leagues are where you want to be," he said. "You get treated like a king. "But the best thing about it is getting on that mound and getting the opportunity to face the best hitters in the world. That is what is great. You get them to ground out or get them to look at an outside fastball for strike three. "Obviously, the plane rides and the food are good, too. But the mound is the biggest thing with 40,000 watching and yelling; shutting them up when you are on the road and having them go nuts when you are at home." Unfortunately, due to what has transpired the past few months, starting with that fateful phone call, it will probably be long distance before he gets that opportunity again. EDITOR'S NOTE: Jeriome Robertson got another telephone call today, Aug. 3, 2004. He was told that he had been traded to the Montreal Expos for minor-league lefty Pierre-Luc Marceau.
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