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Opponents Know Which Jeff Robinson Is Which

July 17, 1988|ROBYN NORWOOD | Times Staff Writer

One of the more important things to know about Jeff Robinson is who he is not.

He is not the former Troy High School star. He is not the former Cal State Fullerton star. He has never pitched for the San Francisco Giants, and he does not pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Which leads to a question. Who is he?

Ask the Angels, who lost to him Saturday for the third time this season.

Robinson allowed just one run on four hits in eight innings, and the Detroit Tigers took a 10-1 victory at Anaheim Stadium.

Ask the rest of the American League, which has had similar trouble with this Jeff Robinson, a second-year pitcher out of El Cajon's Christian High School and Azusa Pacific who now has an 11-3 record and a 2.89 earned-run average.

And if you don't mind a bit of his noted exaggeration, ask Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson, who says Robinson has "the best forkball in baseball."

That may be stretching it, but Anderson might be closer to the mark when he says that Robinson is among the top five young pitchers in the American League.

Evidence of at least that can be found on the AL leaders' list: Robinson is among the top 10 in ERA, wins and winning percentage.

That is all unnecessary detail to the Angels, who have seen enough of Robinson this season to draw their own conclusions.

He has pitched 26 innings against the Angels and allowed just 2 runs on 12 hits.

The damage to the Angels:

--A 6-0 loss on April 26 with Mike Witt on the mound.

--A 6-1 loss on two hits on July 2.

--A 10-1 loss Saturday that ended a seven-game Angel winning streak.

The only good news for the Angels is that they won't see Robinson again this season unless it's in a very unlikely spot--the AL playoffs.

Barring that or a trade, the Angels have paid their due. Today's series finale against Detroit is the last scheduled meeting between the teams this season.

Robinson, 26, is so unassuming that he still considers himself to be the fifth starter in the Tiger rotation, even though he has the staff's best record (Frank Tanana, today's starter, is second at 11-4).

And he won't subscribe to any theories about his apparent mastery of the Angels.

"To be honest with you, I look at every team the same," he said. "I don't look at the Angels any different from anybody else."

So at least the Angels can feel that they haven't been singled out.

"He's been effective against the whole league," Angel Manager Cookie Rojas said. "He doesn't have an overpowering fastball, but good enough. He changes speeds well and he's very consistent."

Robinson relies on a 90- to 92-m.p.h. fastball, a hard slider and that "great forkball," Anderson said.

The only notable trouble Robinson had Sunday was in the second inning, when the Angels scored a run on two hits and a sacrifice fly, and, with the help of a walk and a hit batter, loaded the bases with two out.

But second baseman Lou Whitaker made a nice play on a grounder by Johnny Ray and got a force at second, ending the inning.

"Every game I go out there and just try to make them hit the ball and hope we make the plays," Robinson said. "We have such a good defense, that usually works."

Robinson had so little trouble the rest of the way, allowing just two hits over six innings, that he might have been in line for his fifth complete game of the season. But a five-run Tiger ninth changed things, and reliever Guillermo Hernandez struck out the side to end the game.

"I felt fine, but after the big inning, Sparky decided to get Guillermo some work. It was fine with me," Robinson said.

You get the idea that there is not much that would not be fine with Robinson, who seems perfectly content to toil in the shadow of bigger names on the Tiger staff--Jack Morris, Walt Terrell, Doyle Alexander and Tanana.

"I'm not the ace of this pitching staff," Robinson said. "I'm just trying to keep my job."

This is an agreeable fellow--so much so, in fact, that when he is asked occasionally to sign an autograph for someone who obviously has him confused with the Pirates' Jeff Robinson, he sometimes obliges.

He'd sign a baseball card with another man's face on it?

"If he's going well," Robinson said, "I'm glad they confuse us."

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