Surprise position outlook: Closer
Today's position: Closer
Nathan, now 38, was 3-5 with a 2.80 ERA and 37 saves. He converted all but three of his save opportunities and had a streak of 31 straight conversions from April 15 to Sept. 12.
He had a 1.86 ERA (11 earned runs in 53 1/3 innings) with nine walks and 65 strikeouts in 54 games during that streak. Nathan managed to get one of his saves on just one pitch, inducing a ground ball double play on April 24 vs. the Yankees.
Nathan also became the first pitcher with a blown save and a save on the same day, when he blew Game 1 of a doubleheader with the Angels before nailing down the final three outs in a Rangers win that night (Sept. 30). The win clinched a playoff berth for the Rangers.
Do you remember Nathan’s first week on the job? He gave up four earned runs in his first four innings (four appearances) before putting up a 0.36 ERA in his next 26 appearances.
In other words: After that first week, he was as automatic as they come for most of the season. Nathan experienced some fatigue late in the year and has talked this offseason about making sure he gets stronger and does what he needs to do to keep himself in great shape to last a full season.
Nathan was on the disabled list in 2011 with a right flexor muscle strain, a little more than a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. But he returned and pitched well enough down the stretch to get a two-year deal with a club option for a third year from the Rangers. It certainly appears to be a good investment.
Nathan's velocity on his fastball has returned (and even gone up a tick at times). He has a slider that he can locate well and a curveball with some bite. Add it up and Nathan was an All-Star in 2012 and one of the top closers in the game. So that's not a position that has the Rangers concerned heading into spring. The key is that Nathan stays healthy and gets ready for the season.
One thing to remember from last year is that Nathan actually struggled for much of the spring. He gave up hits in minor league games and wasn't consistently getting outs. But he wasn't concerned. And after a rough first week in which he blew one save and let a tie game get away, Nathan settled down and was terrific.
Yes, he's now 38 years old. But with the surgery and how he responded last season, Nathan is confident that he'll stay effective and productive. He can use last season as solid evidence to support that. He heads into 2013 as one of the top closers in the game.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Rangers GM Jon Daniels joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to tackle the tough questions after his team failed to advance to the playoffs.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss having Nelson Cruz back in the lineup and how the Rangers are feeling heading into their wild-card play-in game against the Rays.
Play Podcast ESPN Insider and senior MLB analyst Jim Bowden joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the wild-card race and the Rangers' chances of making the playoffs.
Play Podcast Chuck Cooperstein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why he feels Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish isn't an ace.
Play Podcast Elvis Andrus joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Rangers' stretch run and the morale level in their clubhouse.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss the latest Rangers news, including the team's struggles, Ron Washington's job security and a rumored trade with the Braves.
Play Podcast Ron Washington joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss the Rangers' dismal September, who's to blame for their September struggles and his status as the team's manager.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss how some people are calling for the Rangers to fire manager Ron Washington.