Last December, the Detroit Tigers signed their former nemesis, Joe Nathan, to a two-year deal worth $20 million. Tigers fans far and wide rejoiced as they felt that the move had finally given their team a real closer. However, Nathan gave fans quite a scare early on this season after he had a couple of rough outings and subsequently announced that he was suffering from a “dead arm.”
Although it was very early on in the season, there was a certain amount of concern that the legendary Nathan’s name was on its way to being added to the long list of shaky closers that the Tigers have endured over the years. That said, Nathan has been showing significant signs of improvement over the past week and those fears are beginning to subside.
In Thursday’s 7-5 victory over the Cleveland Indians, Nathan pitched a perfect inning while recording one strikeout for his second save of the season. In yesterday’s victory against the Los Angeles Angels, Nathan entered in a non-save situation, as the Tigers had a 5-1 lead at the time, and he proceeded to put together another encouraging outing.
Nathan did have one blemish in yesterday’s game, which was giving up a solo home run to Albert Pujols, but he struck out Mike Trout and Howie Kendrick who both had huge games against the Tigers the previous night. He also got Raul Ibanez to ground out.
Today, Nathan came in and protected a one run lead to earn his third save of the young season. He gave up one single to Kendrick but picked up another two strikeouts against Ian Stewart and Ibanez. Nathan’s performance today was absolutely huge for the Tigers.
Although Nathan’s most recent outings are indeed a positive sign, he still has some work to do and he must continue to build off of his success. It is early, but Nathan still has an uncharacteristic ERA of 7.04 and he has already given up as many home runs this season in 7.2 innings pitched as he did in all of last season in 64.2 innings of work.
If he continues to pitch like he did today, however, there may not be too many more long balls hit against him this season.
It would be outstanding if Nathan could put together a few more solid outings, get his ERA down around its career level of 2.80 and continue to assure Tigers fans that he is capable of recapturing the form he displayed with the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers.
The Tigers are trying to win their first World Series championship in 30 years, and if they are to achieve that goal, it is absolutely imperative that Nathan continues to do his part.