Joe Nathan is still likely headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery, but Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the Twins’ closer will give his injured elbow “a vigorous test” by playing catch Saturday.
Complicating matters is that Nathan was “bedridden Saturday and Sunday with a virus and still had a sore throat Monday.” The larger issue, of course, is his torn ulnar collateral ligament, which few pitchers have ever been able to pitch through. However, given that he’d likely be sidelined for at least 12 months following surgery Nathan sees no harm in trying anything possible to avoid going under the knife:
When I feel loose, if I do get loose, I definitely want to test this thing as much as I can for Day 1 and see how it feels. This is going to be something where there shouldn’t be a gray area. It’s going to be I feel great, or this just isn’t me, this doesn’t feel right.
Whatever happens in my career, I tell everybody you’ve gotta look at the bright side. For me, if the worst-case does happen, I see it as a chance to prolong my career. I see it as a chance to give myself a new arm and pitch for another five years after this. That’s the worst-case scenario for me, coming back in 2011 with a brand new arm.
While visiting Twins camp last week Craig saw first-hand how well Nathan handled news of the injury and looking at the bright side is always a good approach, but in reality “the worst-case scenario” isn’t “coming back in 2011 with a brand new arm.” The worst-case scenario for a 35-year-old who undergoes Tommy John surgery is never pitching again and even if things go reasonably well in his recovery missing a big chunk of 2011 is a strong possibility.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.