Other than being the goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings, or the quarterback for the Detroit Lions, having the role as the closer for the Detroit Tigers is the most scrutinized job in the city. With the 2015 season right around the corner, Joe Nathan is once again the holder of that job, at least for now.
The 40-year-old right hander is entering his second season with the Tigers and he hopes to have a much better showing than he had last year. Last season, Nathan converted 35 out of 42 save opportunities while putting up a very un-closer like 4.81 earned run average. The veteran got off to a poor start and never really got going on his way to one of his worst seasons as a professional.
“Last year was frustrating, for sure,” Nathan said. “I got off to a start that I didn’t want to, one that I hoped I didn’t and you hope that you never do, but you’re never guaranteed results.”
If history can teach us anything about Nathan, it’s that he is able to bounce back from a subpar season. In fact, after posting a 4.84 earned run average and only 14 saves in 2011 with the Minnesota Twins, Nathan came back with a 2.80 earned run average and 37 saves in 2012 with the Texas Rangers. He then followed that up with a stellar 1.39 earned run average and 43 saves in 2013.
Nathan was struggling so much last season that the Tigers felt that they had to make a move to enhance the bullpen. In late July of last year, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski went out and acquired Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers. Soria has 178 career saves and will be ready to replace Nathan as closer if he struggles out of the gate.
Nathan is determined to get back to his old self and to dominate the 9th inning like he has before. He has been going to the gym four days a week and is focused on improving everyday because he has a goal in mind, winning it all.
“The only thing I want to work on is I want to win a World Series. I want that ring.” Said Nathan.
It may be now or never for Nathan as he is in his second and final year of his contract with the Tigers. Last year the team gave Nathan an extra long leash as he struggled, mostly because of a lack of options, this year will most likely be different. With a healthy Soria, and with the youngster and possible closer of the future, Bruce Rondon coming back from injury, the Tigers have more options in the bullpen.
A great start is exactly what Nathan needs, both on the field and with the fans. If you remember, Nathan did not exactly win the fans hearts over last season when he decided to flip them off in an August win over the Pirates. Nathan has since apologized, but the apology alone will not get the fans on his side. Closing games will. If he is able to do that successfully the fans will love him, because after all, it is all about winning.
Let’s hope that the offseason work that Nathan has done, along with the competition that he has in the bullpen, will allow him to get back to the dominant closer that he was only a short time ago. My opinion is that Nathan is going to come out firing this season and will be one of the most improved players on the team. Look for him to post an earned run average around 2.90 or so with less blown saves than last year. The question is whether or not those numbers will be good enough for him to remain the closer for the entire season. Regardless of how he pitches, he is getting up in there in age and this will probably be his final year with the team unless the youngster Rondon has another setback.
So, is it now or never for Joe Nathan? What do you think? Should he even start the season as the closer after his performance last year? Let us know your thoughts, we look forward to reading them.