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.
Blue Jays closer Ken Giles hasn’t exactly turned things around since joining the Blue Jays on July 31, when the club sent embattled closer Roberto Osuna to the Astros. Giles posted a 4.99 ERA in 30 2/3 innings with the Astros, then put up a slightly less miserable 4.58 ERA in 17 2/3 innings with the Jays. Still, he’s much happier with the Jays than he was with the Astros, even after winning the World Series with them last year. He said to Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star, “I’m actually enjoying the game more than I did for my entire tenure in Houston. It’s kind of weird to say that because I won a World Series with that team. But it’s like, I just felt trapped there. I didn’t feel like myself there. Overall, I felt out of place.”
Giles also said “the communication was lost” with the Astros and it was something that came easy with the Jays. He said, “When I came here, they stayed patient with me. I said hey, I want to work on this thing till I’m comfortable. All right. OK, I’m comfortable, let’s move on to this next thing. Pitching, you can’t just try to fix everything at once. For me, I had to take baby steps to get my groove back. The Jays allowed me to do that. Yeah, the team was out of contention, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still my career. I still have to prove myself. Them being so patient with me, understanding what I want to do, was very, very big.”
Giles, 28, has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining. He has shown promise despite his overall mediocre numbers. In non-save situations this season (with both the Astros and Jays), he has a 9.12 ERA. But in save situations, his ERA is a pristine 0.38. Giles could be a closer the Jays find themselves leaning on as they attempt to get back into competitive shape. Since it sounds like Giles is quite enamored with Toronto and with the Blue Jays, a discussion about a contract extension certainly could be had.