Joe Nathan is showing major signs of decline at age 39

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Joe Nathan has been one of the best closers in baseball for a decade, saving 354 games with a 2.85 ERA, but at age 39 he’s finally showing signs of decline in his first season with the Tigers.

Nathan saved 43 games with a 1.39 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 65 innings for the Rangers last season, which convinced the Tigers to give him a two-year, $20 million contract as a free agent, but now he’s got a 6.86 ERA with four blown saves and two losses.

Nathan continues to miss a fair number of bats with 20 strikeouts in 21 innings, but he’s walked 11 batters and served up four homers. And perhaps most worrisome is that his average fastball velocity is down to 91.4 miles per hour compared to 94.0 mph in 2012 and 92.2 mph last season.

Predictably, the struggling closer told Jason Beck of MLB.com that he’s confident about turning things around:

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone through a funk and come out the other end. I’ve dealt with two injuries. I’ve pitched much worse than this, trust me. I’ve pitched much worse than this in Triple-A, got sent down to Double-A, got my butt back to the big leagues. I think having dealt with that, having–not the confidence, but at least the experience of knowing I can come back through this stuff definitely helps.

He’s right about coming back from a lot in his career, including Tommy John surgery in 2010 at age 35, but unfortunately Father Time remains undefeated and Nathan’s struggles appear to be more than simply bad luck or a rough patch. As a Twins fan who got to see Nathan dominate for a half-dozen years I’d love to be wrong, though.

Amanda Hopkins is the first full-time female baseball scout in over 50 years

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SEATTLE (AP) Nearly two years ago, Amanda Hopkins’ phone rang. It was a call she dreamt of receiving, one that broke barriers and made her a part of baseball history.

Almost immediately, her competitiveness took over.

“She put a sign up on her bedroom door saying, `Stay out, we’re opponents,”‘ recalled her father, Ron Hopkins, a special assistant to the general manager for the Pittsburgh Pirates. “In other words, my bedroom is off limits to you, there is info in here. I got a kick out of it.”

The 24-year-old Hopkins is now about to complete her second year as an area scout for the Seattle Mariners. Her responsibility is the Four Corners area of the Southwest, taking her to destinations like Greeley, Colorado, and Hobbs, New Mexico, two of the more challenging places to get to from her base in the Phoenix area.

She is also the first full-time female baseball scout in more than 50 years, breaking through a barrier that required diligence on her end and willingness by the Mariners organization.

Yet, Hopkins does not view herself through that prism or want to be viewed as a trailblazer. She’s a scout . That’s it.

“I think if anything people are more shocked sometimes when I will go meet with a player in the office or something like that. Maybe they just know, hey the Mariners’ scout is coming in to meet with you today and they walk in and they’re like, `Oh.’ That kind of thing,” Hopkins said. “It’s usually more of like a shocked look. But then they’re more curious, they’re like, `How’d you get into this?’ And they kind of like want a brief rundown of how I got to where I am. All the players, all the coaches, are incredibly respectful to me.”

While she is believed to be the first woman to work as a full-time baseball scout since Edith Houghton in the middle of the 20th century, Hopkins has been around baseball since she was a child.

She traveled with her father to games, regularly making trips to the Alaskan Summer League or the Cape Cod League in summers. She would run the radar gun and pass along the speeds to her dad when she was as young as 8. It was obvious early on she possessed the same critical eye as her dad.

“She learned at an early age the difference between a curveball and a slider. As she got older it just sort of grew on her,” Ron said.

“I’d go out with my dad and they’d be like `Oh what do you want to do when you grow up?’ And I’d tell them, `I want to be a baseball scout,”‘ Amanda said. “It’s like this little girl telling them that and it’s like, `Oh that’s cute. She wants to be like her dad.’ But really, I think it was kind of like she’ll grow out of it. That’s kind of what everyone thought.”

Instead, her passion for the job only grew. She majored in psychology while playing softball at Central Washington University, yet that failed to satisfy her desire to be around baseball.

“The whole time I was in there I wanted to be a baseball scout,” Hopkins said. “And I remember probably my freshman year, sophomore year, I was like I really don’t want to do anything but that. So why am I trying to almost talk myself out of it and find a different path?”

Hopkins served as an intern in Seattle’s baseball operations department in the summer of 2014, but worked mostly with amateur scouting. A year later, she was sponsored by the Mariners to attend scout school and about a month after returning she got the offer.

“I was a little nervous myself because I knew she was going to be breaking a little bit of a barrier and she was pretty young,” said Tom McNamara, who hired Hopkins and is currently a special assistant to the general manager with the Mariners. “I went into Jerry (Dipoto’s) office and I had a lump in my throat and I said, `This is what I want to do.’ And he was all for it. He didn’t even hesitate.”

When she was hired in December 2015, Hopkins was reluctant to talk about her place in baseball history. She wanted more experience as a professional before talking about a career that was just getting started.

“She was down in Arizona in the beginning and I would check on her and finally she said, `Tom, I’m OK. You don’t need to check on me every other day,”‘ McNamara recalled.

Hopkins was part of a panel earlier this week about women in baseball organized by the Mariners. She is starting to get comfortable with the history she has made. But she doesn’t want that to be her entire story in baseball.

“I have so much to learn still. This is such a profession that takes so many years to fully understand and you’re continually learning,” Hopkins said. “My dad, 40 years into scouting, is still learning something every time he goes to the park. So I definitely think that I just want to be the best area scout I can be right now. But I love the scouting aspect of it. I really think that I want to stay in the scouting side of the game.”

Derek Jeter is a Dad

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I’m sure you’ve all been wondering about this — actually, someone in the comments the other day was wondering about it — but the wondering is over: Derek Jeter and his wife Hannah are now the proud parents of a baby girl. Her name is Bella Raine Jeter. She was born yesterday. The delivery, sources within the New York press corps tell me, was “classy.”

You’ll be shocked to learn that the news broke via the Twitter feed of The Players Tribune, which Jeter owns. I eagerly await a ghostwritten column from the baby in the next couple of days. Something like “Being Born Was an Amazing Experience, by Bella Jeter.” Or maybe one of those “Letter to My Younger Selves” feature they do sometimes.

Anyway, congratulations, Captain. Now get to the business of proving your sister wrong.