Last December, the Detroit Tigers signed former foe Joe Nathan to a two-year, $20 million contract in the hopes that he would shore up the closer’s role, which is an area that has plagued the Tigers since they became contenders again in 2006. However, it would suffice to say that things did not start off as smoothly as everyone had hoped.
Nathan had a rather rough start to the month of April, blowing two of his first three save opportunities with his new team. There was a certain amount of concern that he was going to do nothing but continue to torment the Tigers, only this time while wearing their uniform. As of lately, though, those fears have begun to subside.
Last night, in a 1-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox, Nathan entered the game in the bottom of the ninth, pitched a perfect inning and protected the one-run lead. He also struck out the sizzling-hot David Ortiz.
In the blink of an eye, Nathan is now 2-0 with 11 saves. He is also sporting an ERA of 3.24 that continues to plummet, and his WHIP is now down to 1.14. Furthermore, in his last 10 save opportunities, he has gone a perfect 10-for-10 and he has still yet to be scored upon in the month of May. It appears that the Nathan who gave Tigers fans nightmares while pitching for the Minnesota Twins and later the Texas Rangers has indeed resurfaced.
Having a reliable closer at the back end of the bullpen who can protect a one-run lead is a big part of the reason why the Tigers have a 6.5-game lead in the AL Central at the moment. It was hard for Tigers fans to feel comfortable when Nathan’s predecessors, namely Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney and Jose Valverde, even had a three-run lead.
A team with aspirations of winning the World Series simply needs to be able to win tight games, and having a closer such as Nathan makes it much easier for the Tigers to do so. At 39 years of age, Nathan is proving that he is still a master of his craft. The Tigers will likely become even more appreciative of his skills and savvy as the season progresses.