Nearly forgotten Nathan pitches a perfect ninth

ARLINGTON, Texas – Rangers closer Joe Nathan almost had to re-introduce himself to his teammates when he finally returned to the mound Saturday.

Nathan had not pitched since April 26 at Minnesota, but showed no signs of rust with a quick, 1-2-3 ninth inning in the 5-1 win over the Red Sox.

It wasn’t a save situation, except in the sense that it saved Nathan from having to wait another day to see some action.

“He said he was nervous because he hadn’t pitched in a week,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.  “I told him man, we really stink. We haven’t used our closer in a week.”

Nathan hardly looked nervous. He needed just 16 pitches (11 for strikes) to retire three batters.

Nathan struck out Will Middlebrooks on a high fastball, got Stephen Drew to hit a 3-2 pitch for a fly ball out and struck out Jacoby Ellsbury with another fastball.

Not bad for a guy working on seven full days of rest.

“I thought he was fine for not being out there in a week,” Pierzynski said. “He came in throwing strikes, got two strikeouts, three up and three down. That’s all you can really ask for.”

For a while, it looked like Nathan would get a save opportunity. Craig Gentry’s two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth made it a non-save situation, but manager Ron Washington still went with his veteran closer in the ninth.

Nathan has converted all eight save opportunities this season and has a 1.30 ERA. He’s allowed eight hits and struck out 12 in 10 innings of work.

Nathan wasn’t the only bright spot for the Rangers’ bullpen Saturday. Tanner Scheppers, who’s allowed just one run in 16 innings, ended a Red Sox threat in the seventh.

Robbie Ross was the first to relieve starter Alexi Ogando, entering with a man on and no outs in the seventh. Ross got two outs but also gave up a single to leave runners at second and third for Scheppers.

Scheppers induced a grounder from Dustin Pedroia to end the inning, then pitched a scoreless eighth to set the stage for Nathan’s long-awaited return.

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire