Tigers closer Nathan falters again as trade deadline approaches

DETROIT — The drumbeat is getting louder as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches.

"The bullpen is terrible! … Why are the Tigers still using Joe Nathan? … Bring back Benoit! Bring in Soria!"

Variations on those themes can be found throughout social media, especially on a night like Saturday, when the Tigers lost their third straight game to the Cleveland Indians, 5-2.

Joba Chamberlain had a six-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth inning to keep the game tied at 2.

Then beleaguered closer Joe Nathan entered the game in a non-save situation, and things went just about how they’ve gone in the ninth this year — poorly.

Roberto Perez led off with a double that Austin Jackson nearly had before it popped out of his glove.

"I rushed my glove up to try and make the catch," Jackson said. "I missed it and hit the wall. It’s tough. I don’t ever remember trying to make a catch in that part of the field, as many balls as are hit out there."

Nathan managed to strike out Chris Dickerson before waking Jason Kipnis and then getting Mike Aviles to fly out.

The Tigers then decided to walk Michael Brantley intentionally — not a bad idea considering he is 7 for 14 in this series.

But Carlos Santana, now batting .206 this season, hit a deep double to right-center field, clearing the bases and sending many of the sellout crowd of 42,044 fans out of Comerica Park.

"I don’t know if it was the layoff or what, but (Nathan) kept having trouble with his command," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "I talked to Alex (Avila) and he said he actually threw some of his sliders really good. But the two balls up in the zone, Perez and Santana took advantage of."

Nathan is now 4-3 with a 6.23 ERA, which is almost incomprehensible considering he was 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves last season for the Texas Rangers.

Ausmus was asked if he’d considered another option at closer.

"I’m sounding like a broken record because I said it earlier: Wasn’t a good outing (Saturday night), but he’s our closer."

Ausmus did say he considered bringing Chamberlain back for the ninth inning instead of Nathan, but Chamberlain’s ankle was giving him trouble.

"He had ankle issues going back, and every once in a while, it flares up on him," Ausmus said.

Although it’s true that Nathan has struggled, it should be mentioned that the Tigers have scored a total of seven total runs in the three losses to the Indians.

Nathan has been working with pitching coach Jeff Jones on correcting his arm slot, but it’s going to have to happen sooner rather than later.

Still, Ausmus isn’t ready to change closers yet.

"I’m sure there’s a possibility I could reach a point sometime," Ausmus said. "I’m not near that point. I’ll let you know when I am."

It looks like Joel Hanrahan probably won’t be ready to help the Tigers this season. His recovery from Tommy John surgery is progressing slowly, and he hasn’t faced live hitters yet.

The non-waiver trade deadline is July 31. San Diego has already traded closer Huston Street to the Los Angeles Angels, so the price for setup man Joaquin Benoit will likely be somewhat steep.

Rangers closer Joakim Soria is an attractive possibility. He’s 1-3 with a 2.59 ERA and 16 of 17 in save opportunities.

The way things have gone, the Tigers might have to bite the bullet and give up a top prospect or two to get one of those pitchers before that drumbeat becomes deafening.