LAKELAND, FLA. — There’s one concern the Tigers had going into last season that they do not have this season.
Joe Nathan is the closer.
Knowing that can make all the difference in setting up a bullpen.
"For me, in a save situation, I know exactly where I’m going with the ball, regardless of who’s coming up, whether it’s a lefty coming up, righty coming up, heart of the order coming up," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think it’s good mentally in the bullpen just because the guys know that Joe’s throwing in the ninth. They’re not down there stressing out, getting loose, not getting loose, am I going in, am I not going in.
"We don’t know exactly where people are going to slot in, or if those slots will change as we go into the season. But they know it’s gonna be the eighth at the latest. Obviously there’s going to be days that Joe needs a rest but other than that, they know they slot in in front of Joe. It removes a lot of stress — for me, for the other bullpen pitchers."
Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski agreed that having that anchor in the bullpen is settling.
"If you can fill the ninth and you can fill the eighth, then I think you can mix and match a lot before that," Dombrowski said. "So if (Bruce) Rondon — and I’m not saying he’s anointed the eighth-inning guy because that has to be earned and Brad has to make that decision — but if we can find a guy to pitch the eighth and it is Rondon, and you have a guy to pitch the ninth, you can kind of mix and match a lot of other different situations. I like having a veteran bullpen guy out there."
At 39, Nathan seems to be pitching as though he’s in the prime of his career.
Last year with the Texas Rangers, Nathan was 6-2 with 43 saves, a 1.39 ERA and an 0.90 WHIP.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler had a good view of Nathan’s success.
"It’s never automatic in that situation, it’s such a difficult situation in sports but he handles it better than anyone I’ve seen," Kinsler said. "Just his personality and how steady he is and how well he understands the full game just because of his background of playing shortstop in college and having a little bit of taste of everyday, every inning baseball life, he’s got that mentality and that’s huge for a closer role. He’s closed games for two years for a team I’ve been on and I haven’t seen anyone better than him."
It’s still only been three days of spring workouts but Dombrowski is happy with his bullpen as they prepare for the season.
"It’s hard for me to analyze Joba Chamberlain because he’s just come on board, but he’s in good shape, his arm is healthy, we know he has a good arm," Dombrowski said. "(Phil) Coke’s in good shape, he’s throwing well. But we also have a lot of good arms out there.
"We were just talking about it, the number of guys — having an (Ian) Krol, having a (Justin) Miller, having a (Luke) Putkonen, having a (Jose) Ortega, and if you have Nathan and you have Rondon and Chamberlain and (Al) Alburquerque responds as we think he will, and Coke and Krol, you’re not looking at a lot of guys to respond.
"They have to do their jobs but I look at it that we have a chance to have a good bullpen."