Detroit Tigers Closer Joe Nathan to Pitch Rehab Game in Toledo on Wednesday


Apr 6, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joe Nathan (36) reacts during the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers ostensible closer Joe Nathan, who has been on the disabled list since opening day with a right elbow strain, has been cleared to begin a rehab program and may soon be back and active in the major leagues.

The Tigers bullpen has been surprisingly stout in Nathan’s absence. Not that Nathan would have necessarily made them better, but the bullpen was supposed to be a major area of concern heading into the season. As a so far group they’ve accumulated a 2.83 ERA on the season with the fourth-best FIP in the majors at 2.39.

Some of that success is likely caused by luck that will change. The Tigers bullpen has the third-lowest strikeout rate of any such relief groups in the majors, they’ve benefited from a low BABIP (.244), and they’ve yet to see a fly ball leave the yard. Recording outs on balls in play and preventing home runs are both good, but it’s unlikely that they continue on at the same rate.

The good news is the starting staff has been strong for the most part, and no team has needed fewer innings from their bullpen than the Tigers so far (28.2 innings, tie with St. Louis). The bullpen is probably going to show it’s true colors in the coming weeks and months, so limiting their exposure will be a good thing.

Manager Brad Ausmus has thus far maintained that Nathan will return to the closer’s role when he’s healthy even though Joakim Soria has been solid (nailing down five saves in five attempts). Whether that actually happens — and how long it might last if it does — remains to be seen. One has to imagine the leash would be short, at the very least.

Next: Tigers just might have a good defensive team

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