It's not that Nate Robertson felt like he was cursed, or had enough of a crisis in confidence to think that he couldn't compete. However, he went into last season seemingly a magnet for bad situations on the mound. Now, trouble often seems like when Robertson is at his best.
Fitting, then, that Robertson's first outing of Spring Training saw him in a jam with runners at the corners and one out. With a lefty-on-lefty matchup against Cleveland's Shin-Soo Choo, Robertson escaped with an inning-ending double-play ground ball.
It was only a Spring Training game, and an early one at that, but Robertson still gave his fist a little raise after first baseman Marcus Thames caught shortstop Carlos Guillen's throw to complete the twin killing.
"You're out there playing catch and the last game you were in was the World Series. Then you're in Spring Training and the atmosphere's just a little bit different," Robertson said. "But it's funny how you remain anxious regardless of what kind of game it is. That's just the way it is."
Robertson attributes his confidence to the defense behind him. As soon as Robertson saw Choo hit the ground ball toward second base, he said, he was pretty comfortable he was out of the inning.
Still, Leyland sees something else out of the left-hander he got to know a year ago.
"I thought Nate Robertson, in all facets of the game, he probably improved as much as any pitcher that I've been around for a long time on any teams I've managed," Leyland said. "He went leaps and bounds. And I didn't really know Nate before, but he has really started to come into his own. He's a much more confident person, a fierce competitor."
He's competitive enough that he has a lot of ways to improve upon last year. He's trying to hone his changeup into something he can use as often and as well as his slider as a second pitch off his fastball. It's not a new pitch like what Jeremy Bonderman is doing, but an existing pitch that Robertson is polishing. He used it a couple of times on Saturday with good results.
"As long as you're working on something, you have goals, and you have a chance to progress," Robertson said. "You come into camp like you have a job to win and keep on working."
Statistically, the differences between 2005 and 2006 were subtle in a lot of categories and strong in a couple. Robertson made small improvements in innings pitched and batting average allowed, while his walks, home runs and strikeouts remained generally the same. With runners in scoring position, however, he held hitters to a .199 average last year, 67 points lower than in 2005.
"When he got into trouble, he wasn't waiting for something bad to happen," Leyland said.
Said Robertson: "Really, my explanation is [I was] doing my job, but I was part of a good team. We're a good team, and we really hadn't had a good team since I've been in this organization. It felt good to be part of something good and doing my part. But the results are [about] being a good team."
Good debut for Campusano: Saturday's loss was assured by the time Edward Campusano entered the game, but his two scoreless innings were the first impression he needed in the battle for the last spot in the bullpen.
Campusano retired six of the seven batters he faced, the lone exception being a walk. He was perfect against left-handed hitters.
While Leyland says players will neither make nor miss the team in one outing, the fact that he's still getting to know his Rule 5 Draft pick likely makes his on-field performance a little more important.
"He threw the ball great, had an excellent changeup, didn't look intimidated," Leyland said. "It was his first outing, and I'd have to say I was impressed."
Rough day for Grilli: By contrast, Jason Grilli won't be evaluated in game action. That includes a rough Saturday afternoon in which he allowed nine runs, seven earned, on eight hits in 1 1/3 innings.
With a Major League roster spot secured for the first time in his career, Grilli said he's working on a change in his footwork. He's planting on the first-base side of the pitching rubber in an effort to improve his sinker. However, he wouldn't use that as a reason for Saturday's struggles.
"He made bad pitches," Leyland said. "When you make bad pitches against really good hitters, they get hits."
First miscue for Marcus: Thames played the entire game at first base on Saturday and saw plenty of activity, including his first error. After getting three putouts in the first inning, including a stretch to catch a low throw from Carlos Guillen, Thames booted a Grady Sizemore ground ball to his right in the third inning.
"First of all, he was set up too deep [in the infield]. That was our fault," Leyland said. "He probably should've backhanded the ball. But, I mean, he's not a [natural] first baseman. We're trying to help him become good enough to play first base for a while. He's going to make an error. That's just the way it is. Other people make errors, and nobody says anything about it.
"I don't care how many he makes this spring. We're working with him, working with him, seeing if this is a project that we feel comfortable to use him in a game. And so far, from what I've seen, I'd say I would [use him]."
Tickets going fast: Even without Opening Day tickets up for purchase, the Tigers sold more than 60,000 tickets in just over four hours of business on Saturday, the first day fans could buy single-game tickets. That more than doubles last season's first-day total of about 29,000, and is believed to be a Comerica Park first-day record.
The line outside the Comerica Park box office stretched around the park to Brush Street, not just when the ticket windows opened at 10 a.m. ET but into the early afternoon, according to vice president of ticket sales Bob Raymond. Tickets available for two Saturday games -- the June 9 contest against the Mets and the Aug. 25 matchup with the Yankees -- were reduced to standing room only.
The few Opening Day tickets left have been set aside for a random drawing for the right to purchase due to demand. Registration for the lottery at tigers.com or by phone at 313-471-BALL runs through March 11, with winners notified the following week.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.