New Sox closer Robertson: Nice guy, mean competitor

"I'm excited ... and I'm hoping I can get back to the playoffs," David Robertson said. Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

SAN DIEGO -- Talk to David Robertson for any length of time, and the Chicago White Sox' new closer sounds nothing like the cold-blooded attack dog who had the ability take over after one of the most storied runs in major league history and make the job his own.

If nice-guy Robertson has a switch he flips when he takes the mound in the ninth inning, the White Sox hope he remembers to pack it for his move to Chicago this spring.

The White Sox needed bullpen help moving forward after a season that offered little to no relief, and Robertson, 29, fit the bill. The right-hander's credentials were sparkling, from his 2.81 career ERA to the 1.08 mark he posted in 66⅔ innings in 2011 to the 39 saves he had in 2014 after taking over the New York Yankees' closer role from legend Mariano Rivera.

While some pitchers suddenly melt amid the pressure of the ninth inning, even when they aren’t taking over for a sure-fire Hall of Famer, Robertson had the mental acumen to avoid making things harder on himself.

“When he retired and I took over as the closer I wasn’t really worried about what was going to happen because I knew if I could stick to my guns and do the same thing I’ve done in the eighth inning in the ninth inning that we’d be all right and we’d win ballgames,” Robertson said during a conference call Wednesday. “I never approached it as anything more than that. It’s just a job. I’ve got to go out and do my job, get three or four outs and we win and we go home.”

It’s about keeping things simple and doing the little things, such as his unprompted statement at the end of the call.

“One more thing I’d like to say is that I would like to thank Rick Hahn, Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf for making this happen,” Robertson said. “I’m excited about my new time in Chicago, I’m excited to be a White Sox and I’m hoping I can get back to the playoffs.”

In one statement, Robertson gave a shout out to his new bosses, as well as the guy who signs the paychecks, all while dropping the one word every White Sox fan wants to hear: playoffs. Talk about a strong closer.

Hahn and Williams, who preceded him as general manager, have talked about the value of bringing aboard players with high character.

“I think with all four of the guys we have acquired this offseason -- [Zach] Duke, [Adam] LaRoche, [Jeff] Samardzija and Robertson -- their makeup has been a strong part of their selling point and how they fit,” Hahn said. “Obviously, we have a club on the younger side of things, and as we try to take that next step we wanted to have some guys that have won before, some veteran presence, and guys who are good at sort of bringing a clubhouse together and leading them through tough times. Each of these guys has a track record of being able to do that.”

Wanting character guys is one thing. Convincing them to come to your team for reasons more than just the most money offered is another. Whether they knew it or not, the White Sox managed to convince Robertson to come to Chicago with their early-offseason acquisitions of Duke and LaRoche.

To Robertson, it showed the White Sox were committed to winning sooner rather than later. That Samardzija was added essentially at the same time as Robertson only felt like more validation of the decision he made.

“From playing against the White Sox, every time we played them they were an incredibly tough team to beat; they just grinded it out against us,” Robertson said. “Obviously they were on my radar from the beginning and I was glad that I was approached by them. Making those extra moves really helped solidify the direction I wanted to go, which was being a Chicago White Sox.”

Robertson might be happy with his new club, but it’s probably harder to have more excitement than manager Robin Ventura, who struggled making moves with a group of relievers who rarely were in their proper roles.

“You are getting a guy that there’s no question of roles or anything at this point,” Ventura said. “You trust a guy to go out there and do it. He’s done it in some tough situations. I think pitching where he was, for a team following who he did, you know he’s got the stuff.”

As it was with his acquisition of Samardzija on the starting side, Hahn said Robertson was always atop his wish list for fixing the bullpen. Long-term, big-money contracts for relievers -- Robertson is due $46 million over four years -- tend to be as risky as it gets, but the White Sox feel as if they have made a calculated gamble.

“His consistency, his durability, his makeup and work ethic made us a lot more comfortable about David being that guy to take that risk on,” Hahn said. “He really checked a lot of boxes for us in terms of having swing-and-miss stuff, profiling for the ballpark, filling, when needed, a multi-inning role, as well as his character and what he means in the clubhouse. It was really a nice fit for us.”