The Joe Nathan thing

Posted on April 22nd, 2007 – 11:57 AM
By Howard

joen.jpgWe get spoiled. Yankees fans get spoiled. Who else is so spoiled?

My point: The over-the-long-haul reliability of closer Joe Nathan, who has spent some of the past 10 days pitching with a mere mortal’s fallability.

I’ll repeat something I said a few days back. The astonishing thing about Nathan’s 2006 season was that he did not go through a short stretch where he got knocked around. His 7-0, 36 sv, 1.58 ERA hints at that, his game log from last season proves it. Go take a look.

In 2004 and ’05, Nathan’s first 2 seasons with the Twins, he went through short periods of struggles, and he bounced back every time. Again, the game logs from ’05 shows rough spots at midseason and around Labor Day. In ’06, he yielded 6 ER and 9 hits in 2 1/3 innings over 3 outings in August.

In all cases, the struggles were short lived.

Watching his recent appearances, Nathan seemed to struggle because his slider was hittable (flat, instead of biting) and his fastball wasn’t moving anyone off the plate, or being thrown with much command. But in Thursday’s save at Seattle, he threw mainly sliders and ended the game with a breaking-ball strikeout after Richie Sexson hit a fastball for a lost-in-the-sun double. Saturday afteroon, it was 3 strikeouts to 3 Royals in the 9th. His ball was freezing batters into called third strikes.

If Nathan’s fastball is tailing in on right-handers and moving them off the plate, his slider doesn’t need to be overly sharp to be effective; if his slider is breakin’ and bitin’, the rest of his arsenal can slack a bit.

If everything’s working, it’s pretty amazing.

Based on their work over several seasons, Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera are basically the best in the game at what they do. Rivera is entering his 11th season as the Yankees’ closer, so he’s got to be considered a cut above.

But the Twins have been blessed on this one. And have you seen what’s happened to Rivera the last couple of times out?


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