Justin Morneau’s long-awaited return to the lineup after sitting out the past eight months with a concussion is the biggest news in Twins camp this week, but Minnesota also has another elite player coming back from an even longer absence in closer Joe Nathan.
Right around this time last year Nathan left his first spring training appearance with elbow pain and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery, missing the entire season. He’s returned to the mound with three scoreless appearances so far this spring, and more importantly his command has been good and his fastball has been clocked in the low-90s even as he builds up arm strength.
Here’s what Nathan told Kelly Thesier of MLB.com after his outing Monday:
The command has really been a pleasant surprise to this point, and I can’t ask for much more than what’s gone on out there now as far as life on the ball, movement on the ball, sharpness and stuff. Just keep moving forward and keep trying to improve and build arm strength, and I’ll be ready for April 1. I’m happy, very happy with how things feel right now.
Minnesota lost four key pitchers from last season’s bullpen to free agency, but Nathan returning as something resembling his old self would go a long way toward solidifying the relief corps. In his first six seasons as Twins closer Nathan racked up 246 saves with a 1.87 ERA, both of which topped Mariano Rivera for the best marks in baseball during that time.
Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball reports that the Orioles and Diamondbacks have agreed in principle to a trade involving outfielder Michael Bourn. The trade is in the process of being finalized. It is not yet known what the Diamondbacks are receiving in return.
Bourn will be the second outfielder the Orioles have acquired on Wednesday, as the club also claimed Drew Stubbs off waivers from the Rangers.
With rosters expanding on Thursday, the Orioles are making a concerted effort to bolster the team’s outfield depth. Both Stubbs and Bourn are eligible for the Orioles’ postseason roster if the club makes it.
Bourn, 33, hit .261/.307/.362 with 21 extra-base hits, 30 RBI, 43 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 358 plate appearances.
The Orioles have claimed outfielder Drew Stubbs off release waivers from the Rangers, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The club designated for assignment pitcher Kyle Lobstein, whom they acquired from the Pirates earlier on Wednesday, to make roster space for Stubbs, Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com reports.
The Rangers designated Stubbs for assignment last week. After clearing waivers, Stubbs refused an assignment to Triple-A Round Rock, so the Rangers released him on Monday.
Stubbs, 31, has taken only 67 plate appearances this season — 42 with the Braves, 25 with the Rangers — as he missed a lot of time between mid-May and mid-August with a sprained left toe.
With rosters expanding, the veteran Stubbs will simply add to the Orioles’ outfield depth.