Joe Nathan plans to resume closing after coming back from Tommy John surgery

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Joe Nathan is 10 months removed from Tommy John elbow surgery and told Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he plans to pick up right where he left off as the Twins’ closer once he arrives at spring training on February 17.

Nathan saved 47 games in 2009 and has been the second-best closer in baseball since coming to Minnesota in 2004, but the Twins acquired Matt Capps from the Nationals to serve as their closer down the stretch last season and he’s under contract for 2011 at $7.1 million.

If healthy there’s little doubt that Nathan will reclaim ninth-inning duties and make Capps an overpaid setup man, but the Twins learned first-hand with Francisco Liriano that not all pitchers return from Tommy John surgery with their old stuff intact and Nathan has just now been cleared to start throwing breaking balls.

I don’t plan on being left out of any drills or held back in any way. If something else says something differently, we’ll go from there. But my mind-set right now is that I’m closing and getting ready for the season. That’s my plan. We’ll see how it goes. There’s always going to be a question mark. For the most part, things have gone well. Obviously, there are some sessions when you wish it went better. But these are the things you’ve got to do to come back. It’s tough to gauge now, but at this stage, it feels good.

Nathan’s comeback is particularly key for the Twins because they lost nearly half of last season’s relief innings with Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes, and Jon Rauch all leaving as free agents and haven’t acquired a single veteran reliever to replace them this offseason. They’re counting on Nathan and Capps anchoring the bullpen while various young guys step up and claim jobs.

Two great Mariano Rivera stories

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In addition to getting unanimous support from Hall of Fame voters, Mariano Rivera’s election is getting universal praise from fans and the baseball community. I mean, at least it seems so. If you see someone out there in the wild really mad that Rivera was elected, please, let me know. But don’t approach such people. They’re probably dangerously imbalanced and might cause harm to you.

From what we’ve seen, anyway, there is no one who doesn’t love Rivera and his election. That love has come out in the form of anecdotes people are sharing this morning. I’ve seen two that made me particularly happy. One “ha ha” happy, the other “aww” happy.

The “ha ha” comes from Michael Young, who shared the ballot with Rivera this year and whose Rangers actually beat Rivera’s Yankees in the 2010 ALCS. Not that they had much success against Mo:

Now the “aww.” It comes from Danny Burawa, who had a few major league cups of coffee after coming up in the Yankees system. From his Instagram last night:

In 2012, in the middle of my first big league spring training, I tore my oblique during a game (I wound up missing the whole season). First cuts hadn’t been made and the Yankees let me stick around to rehab with the big leaguers for a few days. The next day, after finishing my rehab, I returned to the locker room which was totally empty. I’m sitting at my locker getting ready to go home when in walks Mariano Rivera. Considering I was a nobody A-baller, I kept my eyes down on my feet and minded my own business. Next thing I know, he’s in the chair next to me, telling me his story, about failing as a starter, about an injury he had when he was younger, about how the setbacks we think are fatal usually end up as speed bumps on a longer, grander road. This is the greatest of all time, taking the time to cheer up a nobody, for no other reason than he thought it was the right thing to do. Great pitcher, greater human, congratulations Mo!

People use that “great player, better person” construction a lot. I often roll my eyes when I hear it because it’s pretty subjective and, I suspect, the “better person” part can’t be vouched for outside the subject’s friend or peer group. Doesn’t sound that way with Rivera, though. He simply sounds like a prince of a guy.