Robles Headed In The Right Direction

BROOKLYN, NY - You wouldn't know this is Hansel Robles' first season as a full-time starter in professional ball by watching him pitch. After coming out of the bullpen for all of 2011 with the Kingsport Mets, Robles has shown his mettle as a starter in Brooklyn this year.

The capstone on Robles' stellar season came on Friday, August 10 against the Vermont Lake Monsters, where he carried a perfect game into the 8th inning, not relinquishing a hit until he recorded two outs in his half of the frame. The effort was more than enough to earn Robles New York-Penn League Player of the Week honors.

Robles, who was also named to the NYPL National League All-Star team, has gathered his accolades, but it's his numbers that tell the story. Through eleven starts, Robles is 5-1 with a 1.20 ERA, more than a full run better than the next best starter on the staff, Gabriel Ynoa (2.30).

And on a team marked by consistent starting pitching all season, the odds that the most consistent hurler on the staff would be a relative novice at the craft surely were not high. But Robles says he's settled into the starter's role just fine.

"I feel good. I just kept going with my actual work," Robles said. "I felt a little uncomfortable being a starter after being a closer and I had to get it together and be on the same page every time I went out. It was difficult, but I've gotten used to it and now everything is headed in the right direction."

Not without his flaws, Cyclones manager Rich Donnelly pointed out earlier this season that Robles needed to improve at reading hitters and knowing, with confidence, which pitch to throw in which situation. It's safe to say he's gotten better.

"Absolutely," Donnelly answered emphatically. "With [pitching coach Marc Valdes] Val, he's helped him watch the hitter. The hitter will tell you almost what to throw if you're not sure.

"If you foul a ball over our dugout on a 94 and you're a right-hand hitter, that means you're not getting around on it. If you're swinging on a ball in the dirt and look terrible on it, there's a pretty good chance you should throw it again. You know, instead of a guy fouling a ball over here and he throws a changeup. Makes no sense."

Repetition on the mound has helped Robles, but he says he's also done a little extra homework.

"I've been watching video clips of Pedro Martinez, learning how to pitch to certain players, what pitches to throw in certain counts like 0-2, 1-2," Robles said. "I'm trying it here and it's worked for me so I'm keeping it going."

For Donnelly, it all comes down to what he likes to call "pitch-ability".

"He's learning, we call it pitch-ability. A lot of guys can throw hard. Almost everybody here throws 90. Pitch-ability, that's part of it," Donnelly said.

Cyclones pitching coach Marc Valdes has had a front seat to Robles' progression this season, and like a teacher talking about a model pupil, this teacher was glowing when asked about his student.

"Right now he's commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate. That's number one, especially at this level, or at any level. You want to start that as early as possible. He's doing that," Valdes said.

"But what gives him the edge is you don't know if he's up by five or down by five. He's the same guy whether he's giving up hits, given up a run. He goes pitch to pitch and he's been excellent."

Donnelly also had a word or two to say about Robles' demeanor on the mound, as well as the impact his pitching coach has had on the young pitcher.

"We attribute a lot to Marc Valdes. The thing with Hansel that we had to overcome is his composure. His arm has always been there, his composure hasn't," Donnelly said.

"From March 3rd until now, it's been a process to get his composure. Composure is huge for him. He has composure on the mound, he's a different pitcher.

"When he loses his composure, and not velocity-wise, but mental-wise, he goes from about a 93 to an 85 average. Composure to him is so important and that's one of the things he's improved on since the season, since Extended really."

Although presence is his foundation, Robles still needs an effective artillery of pitches to make a name for himself in professional ball. Like any young pitcher, he relies first on his fastball.

"I feel good," Robles said of his primary pitch. "I've gained a couple of miles per hour on my fastball. I'm working twice as hard to bring it up even a little more."

Still, Valdes conceded that pumping up a fastball is more nature than nurture, though the strength work certainly can't hurt.

"We can't really work on fastball velo," Valdes said. "It's tough to go ahead and say if a guy's throwing 92, you want him to go ahead and throw 98. That just happens, that's a God-given talent.

"It's just arm strength and getting the long-toss in and getting a little stronger on the offseason, and then yeah, maybe he can add a mile an hour or two."

As for his secondary pitches, which Robles has said he's been working day-in and day-out to perfect, his coach and manager were nothing but positive about his improvement.

"He's doing outstanding," Valdes affirmed. "His slider's gotten a lot sharper. He back-doors it to lefties at times, and his changeup he throws when he's behind the count or ahead. So basically this year he's got everything working for him."

Donnelly said the secondary pitches are here, now Hansel just needs to learn how to perfect them and use them effectively.

"A good pitcher has to establish his fastball for location, and that he's been able to do. Now, his secondary pitches are changeup and slider. You not only have to have one or two, you have to know when to throw it," Donnelly said. "And if you don't know when to throw it, then they're useless.

"If you're throwing it when you're not supposed to, if you're throwing a strikeout slider on the first pitch, it's no good. You want to throw the strikeout slider on the third strike. So he's learning that. The secondary pitches are fine. Again, he has to know when to throw them and it's an awfully big issue."

It all seems to be coming together at the right time for Robles, who has done everything in his power this season to prove he deserves to climb the minor league ladder going forward. But right now, he's just focused on his remaining starts in 2012.

"Of course I'd like to throw a perfect game," said Robles half-jokingly. "But really, I'd just like to go nine innings and hopefully finish strong."


Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nThe capstone on Robles' stellar season came on Friday, August 10 against the Vermont Lake Monsters, where he carried a perfect game into the 8th inning, not relinquishing a hit until he recorded two outs in his half of the frame. The effort was more than enough to earn Robles New York-Penn League Player of the Week honors.
\r\n
\r\nRobles, who was also named to the NYPL National League All-Star team, has gathered his accolades, but it's his numbers that tell the story. Through eleven starts, Robles is 5-1 with a 1.20 ERA, more than a full run better than the next best starter on the staff, Gabriel Ynoa (2.30).
\r\n
\r\nAnd on a team marked by consistent starting pitching all season, the odds that the most consistent hurler on the staff would be a relative novice at the craft surely were not high. But Robles says he's settled into the starter's role just fine.
\r\n
\r\n\"I feel good. I just kept going with my actual work,\" Robles said. \"I felt a little uncomfortable being a starter after being a closer and I had to get it together and be on the same page every time I went out. It was difficult, but I've gotten used to it and now everything is headed in the right direction.\"
\r\n
\r\nNot without his flaws, Cyclones manager Rich Donnelly pointed out earlier this season that Robles needed to improve at reading hitters and knowing, with confidence, which pitch to throw in which situation. It's safe to say he's gotten better.
\r\n
\r\n\"Absolutely,\" Donnelly answered emphatically. \"With [pitching coach Marc Valdes] Val, he's helped him watch the hitter. The hitter will tell you almost what to throw if you're not sure.
\r\n
\r\n\"If you foul a ball over our dugout on a 94 and you're a right-hand hitter, that means you're not getting around on it. If you're swinging on a ball in the dirt and look terrible on it, there's a pretty good chance you should throw it again. You know, instead of a guy fouling a ball over here and he throws a changeup. Makes no sense.\"
\r\n
\r\nRepetition on the mound has helped Robles, but he says he's also done a little extra homework.
\r\n
\r\n\"I've been watching video clips of Pedro Martinez, learning how to pitch to certain players, what pitches to throw in certain counts like 0-2, 1-2,\" Robles said. \"I'm trying it here and it's worked for me so I'm keeping it going.\"
\r\n
\r\nFor Donnelly, it all comes down to what he likes to call \"pitch-ability\".
\r\n
\r\n\"He's learning, we call it pitch-ability. A lot of guys can throw hard. Almost everybody here throws 90. Pitch-ability, that's part of it,\" Donnelly said.
\r\n
\r\nCyclones pitching coach Marc Valdes has had a front seat to Robles' progression this season, and like a teacher talking about a model pupil, this teacher was glowing when asked about his student.
\r\n
\r\n\"Right now he's commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate. That's number one, especially at this level, or at any level. You want to start that as early as possible. He's doing that,\" Valdes said.
\r\n
\r\n\"But what gives him the edge is you don't know if he's up by five or down by five. He's the same guy whether he's giving up hits, given up a run. He goes pitch to pitch and he's been excellent.\"
\r\n
\r\nDonnelly also had a word or two to say about Robles' demeanor on the mound, as well as the impact his pitching coach has had on the young pitcher.
\r\n
\r\n\"We attribute a lot to Marc Valdes. The thing with Hansel that we had to overcome is his composure. His arm has always been there, his composure hasn't,\" Donnelly said.
\r\n
\r\n\"From March 3rd until now, it's been a process to get his composure. Composure is huge for him. He has composure on the mound, he's a different pitcher.
\r\n
\r\n\"When he loses his composure, and not velocity-wise, but mental-wise, he goes from about a 93 to an 85 average. Composure to him is so important and that's one of the things he's improved on since the season, since Extended really.\"
\r\n
\r\nAlthough presence is his foundation, Robles still needs an effective artillery of pitches to make a name for himself in professional ball. Like any young pitcher, he relies first on his fastball.
\r\n
\r\n\"I feel good,\" Robles said of his primary pitch. \"I've gained a couple of miles per hour on my fastball. I'm working twice as hard to bring it up even a little more.\"
\r\n
\r\nStill, Valdes conceded that pumping up a fastball is more nature than nurture, though the strength work certainly can't hurt.
\r\n
\r\n\"We can't really work on fastball velo,\" Valdes said. \"It's tough to go ahead and say if a guy's throwing 92, you want him to go ahead and throw 98. That just happens, that's a God-given talent.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's just arm strength and getting the long-toss in and getting a little stronger on the offseason, and then yeah, maybe he can add a mile an hour or two.\"
\r\n
\r\nAs for his secondary pitches, which Robles has said he's been working day-in and day-out to perfect, his coach and manager were nothing but positive about his improvement.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's doing outstanding,\" Valdes affirmed. \"His slider's gotten a lot sharper. He back-doors it to lefties at times, and his changeup he throws when he's behind the count or ahead. So basically this year he's got everything working for him.\"
\r\n
\r\nDonnelly said the secondary pitches are here, now Hansel just needs to learn how to perfect them and use them effectively.
\r\n
\r\n\"A good pitcher has to establish his fastball for location, and that he's been able to do. Now, his secondary pitches are changeup and slider. You not only have to have one or two, you have to know when to throw it,\" Donnelly said. \"And if you don't know when to throw it, then they're useless.
\r\n
\r\n\"If you're throwing it when you're not supposed to, if you're throwing a strikeout slider on the first pitch, it's no good. You want to throw the strikeout slider on the third strike. So he's learning that. The secondary pitches are fine. Again, he has to know when to throw them and it's an awfully big issue.\"
\r\n
\r\nIt all seems to be coming together at the right time for Robles, who has done everything in his power this season to prove he deserves to climb the minor league ladder going forward. But right now, he's just focused on his remaining starts in 2012.
\r\n
\r\n\"Of course I'd like to throw a perfect game,\" said Robles half-jokingly. \"But really, I'd just like to go nine innings and hopefully finish strong.\"
\r\n
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