|Joe Nathan got his first save since Oct. 3, 2009. It wasn't easy.|
6th inning. Nick Blackburn gives up a home run to Jose Bautista, then retires Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. He should have gotten Edwin Encarnacion too, but Danny Valencia made a poor throw. With the left-handed Travis Snider up and the tying run on, Gardy went to Jose Mijares, who fanned Snider.
Blackburn had thrown just 93 pitches, but he wasn't given the chance to get Snider.
7th inning: Mijares opens the inning by walking the first two men. With the tying and go-ahead men on, Gardenhire brings in Matt Capps, who wriggles out of the jam (sac bunt, comebacker to the mound, fly to center).
8th inning: Enter Glen Perkins for a one-two-three inning.
9th inning: Here comes Joe Nathan, the first of the four relievers to have a two-run cushion. Nathan throws 31 pitches, just 15 strikes (at least officially; I believe he twice struck Bautista out, but the home plate ump didn't agree). With one run in, the bases loaded and the left-handed Lind up, Gardenhire considers bringing in Dusty Hughes; he sticks with Nathan, and Nathan gets the grounder to end it.
What's interesting here? Everything. Mijares and Capps — the top top set up men — were both brought in before the eighth inning and with men on base. Perkins, who probably came out of camp as the third lefty in the pen, got the eight-inning honors. And Nathan was given all the rope Gardenhire had.
It all worked. I applaud the early use of Mijares and Capps in game situations. That essentially forced Gardenhire to come up with a third set-up option. The use of Perkins rather than Hughes in the eighth suggests that Perkins has moved ahead of Hughes in the pecking order. Perkins' success in that outing probably means he'll get more opportunities.
The decision to stick with Nathan is pure Gardenhire. Lind rakes righties and is almost helpless against lefties (career slash line .290/.343./.520 vs. RHP, .218/.265/.344 vs LHP). Couple the numbers with Nathan's struggles, and there's plenty of reason to go to the southpaw.
I surmise Gardenhire wanted to show confidence in Nathan and thus build Nathan's confidence in himself. It would have been real easy for that to backfire — Lind drills a single to drive in two runs, and there's nothing positive from the outing for Nathan.
But again – it all worked.