Twins closer Joe Nathan is only 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery, a procedure that can take up to 18 months to fully recover from.
And it’s really beginning to show.
Nathan blew his second consecutive save opportunity on Saturday afternoon in Minnesota’s 4-3 loss to the Rays. He entered in the ninth inning to a 3-2 lead but gave up a solo home run to Ben Zobrist, the first batter he faced, and then walked two batters before getting yanked. Jose Mijares surrendered the Rays’ fourth run just a few hitters later as the Rays stormed the field in celebration.
Nathan averaged 93.6 MPH with his fastball in 2009 and 93.5 MPH in 2008. From 2005-2007 it averaged 94.8 MPH. This year, that pitch is clocking in at just 91.2 MPH.
And it’s not just about the velocity. When Nathan is at his best, he doesn’t walk batters very often. But he has already issued five free passes against only three strikeouts through 5 1/3 frames this season.
The Twins may need to hand closing duties off to another reliever while Nathan builds his arm strength in low pressure situations. Matt Capps hasn’t looked sharp in recent appearances, but he would probably be the guy if the Minnesota coaching staff should decide that a change needs to be made.
I would hope by now that I no longer have to preface All-Star talk with my usual “none of this matters” disclaimers, but please keep all of that in mind when I mention that Nick Markakis is leading all National League outfielders in All-Star voting.
Markakis, with 1,173,653 votes, has surpassed the slumping Bryce Harper in that category. Harper has 1,002,696 votes. The third place outfielder is Matt Kemp of the Dodgers with 925,697. Fourth place — Charlie Blackmon of the Dodgers — is like 300,000 votes back of Kemp.Yes, Markakis, Harper and Kemp may be the starting NL outfield. Brandon Nimmo — not on the ballot — should be grumpy, but he’ll get his chance I’m sure.
The thing about it: Markakis, for as unexpected as his appearance may be on this list, deserves to at least be in the top three. He’s second in WAR among National League outfielders behind Lorenzo Cain. He’s slowed down a good bit in June and he’s coming off of a 2017 season in which he had a 96 OPS+ and 0.7 WAR, but he’s having quite an outstanding season. I write that mostly so that there is a record of it come October and we’ve all forgotten it.
Seriously, though, good for Markakis, who has never made an All-Star Game. Good for Kemp too for that matter, who most people assumed was a walking — well, limping — corpse heading into this season. Good for Harper because anything that can keep up the guise of him having a good year when, in reality, he’s really not, will help his confidence as he heads into free agency.
Finally, good for the American League, who will likely get to face a far, far inferior National League team next month in Washington.
The rest of the voting: