Twins right-hander Joe Nathan blew his second consecutive save opportunity on Saturday afternoon against the Rays and has looked like a shell of his former self since spring training began.
Only 13 months removed from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, the veteran Nathan simply doesn’t have the arm strength nor the command to handle high pressure situations.
So the Twins made a change on Sunday.
According to Kelsie Smith of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Minnesota coaching staff has decided to name Matt Capps as the team’s new closer. Nathan will be used in low pressure middle relief situations until he begins showing improvement.
Capps has allowed three earned runs in his last 1.1 innings of work, but he was really sharp in the ninth inning last season for the Nationals and Twins, and he should be able to handle the responsibility here in 2011.
Nathan was the picture of consistency at the back end of the Twins’ bullpen for an entire decade and he should be able to get back to an elite level eventually. But, right now, he’s not fit for the role.
Minnesota is currently sitting at the bottom of the American League Central standings with a 4-10 record.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.