The 41-year-old reliever has been busy since being bought out by the Minnesota Twins in 2011, racking up two more All-Star Game appearances, this time as a member of the Texas Rangers, before a brief stint with the Detroit Tigers led to Tommy John surgery in 2015.
But despite a prognosis that made his retirement seem imminent, Nathan has battled his way back to the majors, spending the better part of a year rehabbing his arm before signing with the Chicago Cubs in May.
Nathan pitched in a major-league game for the first time in over a year Sunday, helping the Cubs to a 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.
Nathan started off shaky, working his way out of a self-inflicted jam in the sixth inning after giving up a leadoff triple to speedster Jonathan Villar and walking Hernan Perez. From there it was vintage Nathan, as the veteran fanned the best the Brewers had to offer — former NL batting champ Ryan Braun, All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and slugger Chris Carter — in quick succession with runners on first and second to escape the inning unscathed.
But before he was a low-risk reliever for the Cubs and Tommy John surgery nearly ended his career, Nathan was among the most dominant closers of his era.
One of just 27 pitchers in league history to log at least 300 saves, Nathan ranks No. 8 on the all-time list with a whopping 377 saves, trailing only Detroit Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez among active pitchers.
It’s a stat made all the more impressive considering Nathan’s career path, one that included just one save in his four seasons with the San Francisco Giants.
Nathan spent seven seasons with the Twins after spending his first full-time season with the Giants in 2003, emerging as one of the league’s dominant closers after being named Minnesota’s closer in 2004.
A four-time All-Star with the Twins, Nathan put together three of the five best seasons for a closer in franchise history, setting a franchise record with 47 saves in 2009.
Nathan appeared to be in decline during his brief run with the Tigers, posting a 4.78 ERA and 36 saves through 63 games, but after battling his way into a spot on one of the best teams in baseball, Nathan could be in for a brief resurgence with the Cubs, although he likely won’t be the closer after the team picked up Aroldis Chapman.