Rangers need to be proactive with Nathan
The only problem with signing a 37-year-old closer to a two-year, $14 million contract is that he might show his age at some point. It's too early for the Rangers to panic over Nathan's two failures in his first four appearances, but there has to be some concern as well.
Both times Nathan has been asked to take the mound on back-to-back days, the results haven't been good. You can understand giving up a home run to Alex Rios in a tie game in the ninth, in part because that's an unusual situation to put him in. But blowing a save Wednesday when the Rangers held a 3-1 lead against the light-hitting Seattle Mariners is another thing.
The Mariners offense had just ended a 22-inning scoreless inning streak in that game, but three of the first four batters Nathan faced in the ninth recorded hits. They appeared to be sitting on his slider, as he would later admit. For a weak lineup to suddenly get dialed in at the end of a game against one of the most consistent closers in the game is cause for concern. Nathan used to be the best in the business at converting saves on consecutive days, but that was before Tommy John surgery at age 35.
One longtime Rangers observer said Thursday he thought the Rangers should've waited until June to start pitching Nathan on back-to-back days. But do you want to ease Nathan into things during the "cool" weather months and then turn him loose when we hit triple digits in Arlington?
So far, Rangers manager Ron Washington isn't showing any signs of concern. He's familiar with Nathan's track record with the Minnesota Twins and won't be in a rush to give up on him, like he was with Frank Francisco early in the 2010 season. Francisco had injury concerns at that point, and the Rangers had lost faith in him. That's certainly not the case with Nathan, who has as much credibility as any closer this side of Mariano Rivera.
"I thought he was throwing the ball well -- 93-94," Washington said Wednesday. "Maybe location had something to do with it. That's a big-league club over there."
That's the nicest thing someone's said about the Mariners in years. The truth is that Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux already have a "Plan B" in mind in case Nathan continues to struggle. They'd be foolish not to. Mike Adams picked up the save in Thursday's 5-3 win over the Mariners, but he's better suited for the eighth-inning role. That's what he did very successfully with the San Diego Padres.
Alexi Ogando would be the logical backup plan at closer. He has similar velocity to former closer Neftali Feliz (97-98) and actually has a more effective slider. No one from the Rangers has said Ogando would be Nathan's replacement, so let's just call this a slightly educated hunch.
The Rangers have perhaps the deepest stable of quality starters and relievers in the league, but that doesn't mean the Rangers shouldn't be proactive with Nathan. It's not like this should come as a complete shock considering how much Nathan struggled in spring training.
Some folks attributed that to the dry conditions in Arizona, but that seems like a stretch. You'd like to think Nathan can figure things out quickly, but Twins fans remember how he voluntarily gave up his closer's role last season because he was ineffective. Is this an overreaction? Probably so, but this bears watching.
Nathan was brought here to be the full-time closer. It's not a great sign that he's failed twice when asked to throw on back-to-back days. It's way too early to lose faith, but you better have that backup plan handy just in case.