Last December, the Detroit Tigers inked veteran closer and former foe Joe Nathan to a two-year, $20 million contract in the hopes that he would finally give their team a dependable, competent closer. So far, things have not gone exactly as planned.
Nathan did, however, go on an impressive run very recently in which he was 10-for-10 in save opportunities, but he is now once again struggling like he did at the beginning of the season. As a matter of fact, Nathan has been making Jose Valverde, at least the one who went 49-for-49 in save opportunities back in 2011, look pretty decent at the moment.
In his last five outings, Nathan is 0-1 with two blown saves in four opportunities, and he has given up six earned runs in four innings pitched. He now has a 5.23 ERA on the season with a 1.31 WHIP. For a comparison, he finished last season with a 1.39 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP while pitching for the Texas Rangers. Nathan used to give Tigers fans nightmares when he pitched for the Rangers and, of course, the Minnesota Twins prior to that. Lately he has been doing exactly the same thing — only this time while wearing a Tigers uniform.
As a result of Nathan’s recent struggles, some are wondering if the Tigers might consider replacing him with Joba Chamberlain, who is currently pitching some of his best baseball in recent years, but that may be a little premature. Nathan is a proven veteran who has racked up 354 saves, and he is well-respected in the game. Therefore, the Tigers will most likely give him every opportunity to work it out. Barring a trip to the DL, don’t look for Nathan to be drummed out of the closer’s role anytime soon.
That said, though, Nathan needs to get back on track rather quickly. The Tigers may have a five-game lead over the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central at the moment and currently happen to be the only team above .500 in that division, but that could all change if they do not have a reliable closer who can help the team win tight games. Since the Tigers became contenders again back in 2006, they have watched countless winnable games slip through their fingertips, in both the regular season as well as the postseason, due to shaky relief pitching. Nathan was supposed to help put an end to that trend.
Nathan may be 39 years old now, but he is still a better pitcher than he has been showing recently. He proved during the stretch that he went on earlier this year that he can still be one of the premier closers in MLB. Hopefully, his recent struggles are just a slight bump in the road and the Nathan who has been one of the best closers in baseball over the past decade will resurface once more.