Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What next for Joe Nathan?

Joe Nathan blew two
save opportunities in
three days last week
and is no longer the
Twins closer.
If there was any doubt concerning the wisdom of pulling Joe Nathan from the closer's role, Nathan removed it with his performance Tuesday night.

Called upon to mop up an already lost game, he worked one inning, allowing three runs on two hits, one walk. He faced six batters and threw a first-pitch strike to five of them, but still was only 50-50 balls and strikes (11 strikes, 11 balls).

Which tells us that (a) he could get ahead of hitters but (b) could not put them away.

That his fastball in generally clocked at 90-92 mph these days rather than the 94-96 of his heyday is only part of the problem. Pitchers can be effective with that velocity, or even with less. It's the command, or lack of it.

And it's the all-too-similar velocities of the fastball and slider — the feed had his slider consistently at 88 mph, the fastball at 90.

I don't know where the Twins go from here with Nathan. Clearly they cannot use him in game situations, and just as clearly he has to pitch if he's going to regain enough ability to help the team. The optimism that accompanied his three straight shutout appearances is gone. The reality — that this is still a rehab season for him — is setting in.

The Twins have to pay him for this season no matter what. After Tuesday's game, it seems possible they will be better off eating the contract, cutting him loose and turning to somebody else.

That decision, if it comes, is unlikely to come quickly or easily.

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