Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bullpen candidate profile: Joe Nathan

 Joe Nathan's comeback
is one of the major
stories of this year's
Twins spring training.
Pitcher: Joe Nathan
Throws: Right
Age: 36
Roster status: 40-man roster; last year of contract
Chance of making team: Excellent

I assume everybody reading a Twins blog knows the backdrop on Joe Nathan: Four-time All-Star, missed last season for Tommy John surgery, no setbacks in recovery.

Nathan is scheduled to make his exhibition debut today, and the aforementioned backdrop will make today's tilt a rather high-profile game for March 1. (Slip Justin Morneau into the starting lineup too, and practically every baseball writer in Florida would feel compelled to be in Fort Myers -- not that Morneau will be deemed ready to play.)

One brief outing on March 1 isn't going to determine the trajectory of Nathan's season. But the Twins, and their fans, are understandably eager to see this next step in his return.

No matter the injury, there are two general areas of concern for a recovering pitcher: Command and velocity. Velocity is the easiest to measure with today's radar guns, and I expect that the gun reading will get prominence in the game stories.

I won't be concerned if Nathan's fastball is merely in the upper 80s today. He has a well-chronicled history of gaining velocity as spring training, and even the first month of the regular season, progresses. He's been clocked around 90 entering camp, which is normal for him.

No, today we should be looking at his command. Are the pitches going where he wants them to go? If he misses his spot, is the miss a hittable one over the plate, or an unhittable one well off the plate?

1 comment:

  1. Actually, pitching in the 80s is what Nathan has done in the past in spring training, at least according to Gardy from a 2006 story about the World Baseball Classic:
    "When Buck Martinez (manager of Team USA) sees (Nathan) throwing 84 mph on March 6, he's going to have a heart attack," Gardenhire said with a laugh. "Just like we did his first year here. Like Nathan says, 'My slider's going to be 88, and my fastball's going to be 84.'"