As an exercise in duration, baseball is given to acting like a puzzle, revealing things that can’t be seen or properly appreciated until the picture is at or near completion.
The assembly of this puzzle, in the shape of relief pitcher Jared Robinson, was quiet, almost too calm to be a build-up, until the image was made whole and revealed a season that, for his first season in UH scarlet, was high art, even if his pitching methods are avant-garde. On the mound he throws a pitch that has no official classification beyond nicknames and a hyphened combo he told to The Daily Cougar back in April.
Always smiling, especially when it comes to standing behind reporters and trying to make teammates laugh while being interviewed, Robinson has a duelist’s mentality on the mound, right down to his approach to the nature of pitcher vs. batter. In his mind, he says, he’s daring a batter to try and hit one of his pitches.
“Yeah, pretty much every day,” Robinson said, who’s also known as J-Rob to the team. “I just try to come in and try to throw strikes. If I make my best pitch and they put a better swing on it and they get a hit, then so be it.”
This approach to the game was good for 5-1 record, a 1.35 through 46 innings and 41 strikeouts. These numbers, like those of any good duelist’s, are born of both the fighter and his weapon.
His sword is what he jokingly calls a “knuckle-split finger-changeup thing”, an invention of his own experimentation during his high school days featuring a grip that could easily be confused for a dragon’s claw. These aforementioned high school days saw him become a four-year letter winner as well as a three-year member of the football team. Despite the bright-lights, big-city nature of Division 1 collegiate baseball, Robinson explained that it was all things he felt he had done before.
“It’s the same game,” said Robinson, who has gone from high school at Lubbock Monterrey to Midland Junior College. There, he helped them advance to the Alpine Bank JUCO World Series; at UH, he entered quickly into the annals of Cougar lore with his long relief appearances in the Baton Rouge Regional Tournament.
“It’s still 60 feet, six inches from the mound to home plate,” said Robinson. “Same game, just some days are louder than others.”
Robinson, a sinewy right hander, was named to the All-Silver Glove Series Team and the Baton Rouge All-Regional Team after throwing 191 pitches in 12.3 innings spread across two games, including the finale win against LSU. His performance granted him the Twitter tags #TigerTamer and #TheManWithTheGoldenArm.
“It’s still 60 feet, six inches from the mound to home plate. Same game, just some days are louder than others.”
Jared Robinson junior relief pitcher
It was in high school days that, in a fortuitous batting practice, he tried to throw a knuckleball but couldn’t get the grip quite right. Invention being what it is, his experimentation led to a pitch that his high school coach called “The Funk” and that his current teammates call “The Gyro”. Variations on the knuckleball, already one of baseball’s more mystic elements, date back to former University of Texas and later Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers hurler Burt Hooton, who experimented until he discovered the Knuckle-Curve, perhaps the spiritual Godfather of Robinson’s unique offering.
“It’s unbelievable,” said first baseman Casey Grayson. “The guy throws pretty much one pitch. Maybe he’ll mix in a fastball every once in a while, mixes it up in there and just keeps people off-balance. It’s a tough pitch to hit. I’ve tried to hit it before and it’s hard.”
Robinson is more non-chalant about the exploration process that led to his discovery.
“Never underestimate the power of screwing around batting practice,” Robinson said. “That’s where pitches are born, but not named.”
Robinson’s Gyro/Funk, aside from being a slash that batters aren’t accustomed to seeing or reacting to, places very little strain on his arm, allowing him to be able pitch longer stretchers than a pitcher who would be reliant on more traditional fastballs or sliders, a gift that head coach Todd Whitting values as beyond versatile.
“I think J-Rob could be a starter for us,” said Whitting. “He could be a middle guy again or he could be a closer.”
During his days in dusty and windy Lubbock, pitching for the aptly named Plainsmen, Robinson admits he could not have imagined he would one day handcuff a program as vaunted as LSU — especially on a team that once saw itself 18 outs away from a trip to the College World Series.
“No, never,” said Robinson. “You can strive for that to be your goal, but I had no idea I’d ever make it this far.”