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.
Another fan was struck by a line drive foul ball during Sunday’s game between the Rockies and Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, Mike DiGiovanna and Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times report. The ball was hit by Cody Bellinger in the first inning, going just beyond where the protective netting ends at the first-base dugout, striking a young woman in the head. Play was delayed for two minutes while the woman received medical attention. She initially stayed in her seat holding an ice pack to her head but was taken to a hospital for evaluation. According to someone in the Dodger Stadium first-aid office, the girl was alert and responding.
After the game, Bellinger said, “It was weird. It’s the first time I think I’ve hit a fan. I saw it literally hit her face. That was tough. I just tried to regroup. I’m sure it was tough for everyone.” He added, “I went over the next half-inning just to make sure she was all right. She said she was all right. She gave me a thumbs up. Obviously, it’s a scary situation.”
Both Bellinger and manager Dave Roberts expressed support for extending the protective netting at Dodger Stadium. [Update: Netting will be extended, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reports.]
Bellinger was involved in yet another incident involving a fan later in the game. According to Michael Duarte of NBC Los Angeles, a 14-year-old girl ran on the field in the ninth inning. Bellinger said the girl came up to him and said, “I want a hug.” As she hugged Bellinger, a security guard tackled her. Bellinger said to her, “You know you’re going to jail?” She replied, “Yeah, I know. It was worth it.”