News of Nathan pitching hurt last year (leading to bone chips being removed in the off-season) didn't surprise me as he was really struggling to get outs. Yes he still was getting the job done but the patented Motorboat Nathan face was making a regular appearance.
Last year Nathan posted a career-high 47 saves with a 2.10 era and a WHIP of .932 (walks+hits/innings pitched. I.E. average of how many base runners per an inning.)
In comparison Nathan has averaged 39 saves, an era of 1.82 and a WHIP of .932 in his previous five years since joining the Twins.
So Nathan was basically as good as ever last year statistically despite some of his struggles of “attacking” hitters. I think a lot of you fans know what I’m saying here. He just wasn’t as much of a bulldog last year.
Also manager Ron Gardenhire has coddled him. Nathan almost never came in before the ninth inning or pitched one batter past. This has probably led to him not getting injured like this before. Kudos to Gardy after the fact.
But to look past the injury the Twins now face a “closer by committee” situation with Pat Neshek, Jon Rauch, and Jose Mijares as instant players who came to my mind.
Neshek is coming back from “Tommy John” surgery (the likely procedure Nathan is facing) but seems eager to get back out there, Rauch has experience as a closer with Arizona and Washington, and Mijares is a lefty.
While all three have flaws- Neshek’s injury, Rauch’s stuff, and Mijares’ weight/youth, I can see a plausible candidate out of those three, if not all.
Matty Guerrier, Jesse Crain, and recently acquired Clay Condery are just set-up men in my mind. Either not possessing the “stuff” or having the mentality to come in and get outs.
Jesse Crain has a lot more in common with the Tin-Man (no heart) and the Lion (cowardly) than he does with the Sandman (Mariano Rivera) and the Duke (the fictional closer from “Major League” who was so mean he "threw at his own kid at the father-son game!")
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal does have a suggestion that tickles my fancy:
"...The Padres' Heath Bell, earning $4 million, would make more sense, but the Twins do not figure to jump quickly."
But it’s too early to tell.
My only fear now as we enter Target Field is injuries. To look at it we have an Uber-Star Catcher who has only been fully healthy for a whole season once. A former MVP at first base coming off back surgery, a newly acquired free-agent second baseman coming off a season-fighting wrist injury, a top of the rotation pitcher who’s throwing with screws in his wrist, and another starter who’s missed several seasons with injuries.
So between Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Orlando Hudson, Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano this squad had some injury questions. Pat Neshek and Francisco Liriano as well. We didn’t need to add Joe Nathan to this list. To me the fear is more of a “big picture” problem with the Twins, not just who’s going to close out the ninth.
Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press comes out and says what needed to be said in his article today.
"Finally, a little "what if?" Can you imagine if Francisco Liriano had the mindset of a closer? With that heater, wicked slider and deadly change, he'd be terrific in that slot. Unfortunately, he loses confidence as a starter and therefore never would survive as a closer. But the lefty has the perfect physical makeup for the job."
What If? Indeed.