Jun 3, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joe Nathan (36) walks off the field after being relieved in the ninth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Comerica Park. Toronto won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Nathan's Role As Closer In Jeopardy

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It was a scoreless tie in the ninth inning after a pitchers duel between Anibal Sanchez and the Blue Jays Drew Hutchinson.  Anibal Sanchez threw 7 innings of shut-out baseball. Joba Chamberlain worked a scoreless 8th. So Brad Ausmus naturally called on his closer to keep the Toronto Blue Jays off the board in the ninth.

Then the wheels came off.

A couple of walks and a seeing-eye single later, the Jays closed the book on Joe Nathan after giving up two runs and leaving two men on.  That opened the door for a 3 run shot by Brett Lawrie building a 5 run lead for the Blue Jays in the ninth inning. The Tigers J.D. Martinez knocked a three-run dinger in the bottom of the ninth but it was too little too late as the Jays went on to win 5-3.

Although it was Al Alburquerque that surrendered the three-run homer in the top of the ninth, Joe Nathan left the door open when he was supposed to be slamming it shut.

During the post game press conference, Manager Brad Ausmus was asked about his closers struggles.  He responded by saying: “He is going through a tough stretch”. When asked if someone other than Joe Nathan would be closing the game for the Tigers tomorrow Ausmus said ” that is not something I would discuss in public without talking to the player”.

Not exactly a vote of confidence. In fact reading into those comments, one could assume that Ausmus plans to use someone else to close but won’t announce it officially announce it.

The Detroit Tigers latest closer controversy represents the biggest managerial test for the Tiger’ s rookie manager. If Ausmus does use another pitcher (Joba Chamberlain for example) and that player has success; will the Detroit Tigers manager have the courage use his 10 million dollar closer again? Or will he ride the hot hand and create another closer by committee.

When Joel Hanrahan joins the team after the all-star break it promises to make the closer situation all the more messy.  Hanrahan enjoyed success in that role while in Pittsburgh. He was to play the same role for Boston before suffering an injury that lead to Tommy John surgery in the offseason.

Dave Dombrowski believes Hanrahan can help the Tigers in the back-end of the bullpen as a set-up man. But if Joe Nathan can’t get it together, Hanrahan might be back in the closer role sooner than anyone anticipated.

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