Deal With It Detroit, Joe Nathan Is Your Closer


Sep 16, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher

Joe Nathan

(36) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Twins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Last night’s ninth inning walk off loss to the Minnesota Twins was a heart breaker for Tigers fans.  After the Tigers stunned the Twins with the long ball on Monday, the Twins returned the favor with a walk-off in-field single on Tuesday.

But it wasn’t the infield single that had the twitter working overtime last night but the circumstances leading up to that.

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  • The emotional roller coaster began with a J.D. Martinez three-run blast in the top of the ninth that gave the Tigers the lead.  But in the bottom of the ninth with one out, the wheels started to come off the roller coaster with a one-out walk to Trevor Plouffe. Then a disastrous miss-play by defensive replacement Ezequiel Carrera led to the an RBI and a tied game.  Aaron Hicks then finished the job by legging out an infield single to beat the Tigers in walk-off fashion 4-3.

    There is plenty of blame to go around for the Tigers loss but the blame game should start and stop with Joe Nathan.  Although the play by Carrera in center field was inexcusable, the walk issued to the free swinging Kennys Vargas that led to the tying run was equally as inexcusable. A closer for a World Series contending team can’t walk a guy in that situation.  If Nathan doesn’t issue that free pass the Tigers probably win this game.

    But as angry as fans may be the time for replacing Joe Nathan has long passed.

    Slow Joe

    It is clear to anyone watching that Joe Nathan is a shadow of his former self.  The Detroit Tigers closer struggles to reach 92 on the radar gun with little movement on his pitches.  With the velocity of his fastball down that makes his 85 mph off speed arsenal much less effective.  Pitchers can get away with a small speed differential if they have control but Nathan’s control has been questionable at best.

    No Where To Go

    With Joe Nathan showing his age it is hard to imagine why Brad Ausmus would continue running out there to close games.  But a demotion of Joe Nathan is not feasible because there is nowhere to put him in the bullpen.

    After converting from starting pitcher many years ago, Nathan has always been a closer.  With confidence being a major factor in late game bullpen success, it is hard to imagine Joe Nathan being effective in the set-up role. And with the salary Nathan pulls down, using him as a $10 million dollar victory cigar is simply not an option.

    Brad Says So

    Prior to the bottom of the ninth both Joakim Soria and Joe Nathan were both warming up in the bullpen.  During the post game press conference, manager Brad Ausmus was asked by John Keating of Fox Sport Detroit if he was “waffling” with the decision on who would close the game.

    The answer was short and sweet.

    “No” Ausmus said, “Joe was coming is if we were ahead, Soria if we were tied”.

    Ausmus’ stubborn refusal to consider anyone else but Joe Nathan as the closer dwarfs that of the cantankerous Jim Leyland. That said, Ausmus may already know that he is stuck with Joe Nathan as his closer and a demotion could upset the chemistry of an already fragile bullpen. Therefore blaming Nathan in during post comments is a waste of energy.

    In summary Tiger fans are going to have to deal with Joe Nathan as their closer for the stretch run and play-offs.  That is of course if Joe Nathan can keep from adding to his blown total of seven blown saves.